This Post is Not About Art
When I tell you that the arrangement of sweetly colored textural shapes above is not art I sincerely hope you believe it. Admittedly, you have little reason to. You’ve been here before. You’ve seen that week after week I populate this space with images that are in fact art, or could, without too great a leap of imagination, be considered as such. High art, low art, unexpected art, unintentional art; Categorical labels and their attendant quotation marks, though generally eschewed, abound here for those who’d choose to employ them. This post though, is different. Truly. So when I assure you that the image above, and those to follow below are not art, have nothing whatsoever to do with art, and that when looking at them you probably ought to cringe and scowl, your nose ought to wrinkle, and you should turn away feeling vaguely disgusted, know that I mean it.
This image is not art. No matter that it sits there, displaying a certain textural quality. No matter that you can almost feel it on your fingers. No matter that your eyes glide over its surfaces and dip into its recesses. No matter that, just behind your eyes, your mind does its tricks of correlation and interpretation. Don’t be fooled.
There is a shape on display here. No doubt about that. It’s a voluminous shape seeming to take up space. There is a complexity to it and a certain asymmetrical balance. You might become intrigued by this shape. You might even find yourself creating a sort of mental model of the shape, spinning it around in your mind, and contemplating it’s aesthetic qualities. But none of that makes this thing art.
Here are some colors. A controlled and not altogether inharmonious palette of colors in fact. Colors bear associations and even emotional content evidently, so the colors here could conceivably not only send you off on a tangent of associative thought but also make you feel something. Don’t, however, confuse this experience with that of viewing a piece of art.
The thing above exhibits absolutely no obvious utility or function. But there it is, existing. Surely there must be a reason. You know as much. Maybe the reason is obscure and abstract, or maybe the reason is simply obscure to you, unfamiliar as you are with items like this one. But don’t think for a second that the probable necessity of some explanatory paragraphs to make that reason clear confers some artistic gravitas on this thing. This thing is not art.
Again, you might ask yourself, what is this? What is it for? What does it mean? Looking at it all sorts of inferences come to mind, surfacing, playing out, and being replaced in turn. There is a free-association of language, with words just tumbling about willy-nilly, almost like poetry- humble mesoamerican bruise papoose, subcutaneous, atrophied and oxidized, slouching toward enanthem but lost to the lava flow. The texture, colors, and shapes all suggest corollaries and possibilities. There is something phallic about it obviously. Also something vaguely anthropomorphic. Something morbid perhaps, or fetid. Something grotesque but also compelling… As your mind applies all its algorithms just remember this, whatever it is, it isn’t art. Of that you can be sure.
Being that I am the one who put these items on display I can hardly pretend that I don’t know what they actually are and where they come from. Some of you most likely want to know after having read 6 paragraphs which lead you exactly nowhere. Some of you might be annoyed with me, to be drawn-in and sent away without knowing. I can understand that. But I want to ask- do you really want to know? Are you so keen to categorize these blobs and slabs that you can’t just click away now, content with this meaninglessly miniscule portion of mystery still in tact?
I would think that the prospect of being shown a group of images, complete with texture and shape and color, which make absolutely no claim on being “art” of any kind whatsoever, and in fact emphatically deny being any such thing, would be a welcome respite. A sort of reward in itself. These are images after all which require no kind of adoration or supplication from you. Their existence does not imply, in any way, that you must give them proper consideration or else find yourself judged. They do not take titles or feel entitled to your attention. They do not seek the high ground of a pedistal. They do not claim to be meaningful. They do not pretend to be removed from you, the viewer, but simultaneously crave your praise. You would not want to own them and they are not worth your money. They’re not art.
Isn’t that enough?
If it isn’t enough for you, well, I’m happy to point you toward the answers you seek. But remember- once you know what these things-that-are-not-art are… You can’t “unknow” that knowledge. And you might want to. I mean things that aren’t art usually have meanings and real consequence which aren’t always pleasant. Outside of the realm of art, your safety can not be 100% guaranteed.
If your adamant though-
Here you go.
Until next time.
hide full text
The captain, crew, and palace retinue were dead; meat stripped from bone, broken and brined like soup carcasses. The ship was no more. Water to their thighs the three boys were standing somehow, breathing somehow, alive. A prince presumptive and his young guards facing an unknown shore beneath a fast darkening sky. Bred for leadership but having never lead, the prince was silent. He felt the sand dragging over the tops of his feet, sucked backward by the tide. He trembled. He thought of the ceremonial sword bestowed on him that very morning, its blade now plunged into the sea floor. In the woods beyond the the edge of the shore animals moaned and chortled and sung.
“We must build a fire.” said one of the young guards, the water dissolving caked blood from his tattered breeches. “Night falls, and to what proportion grows the animal’s madness by moonlight I’d remain ignorant.”
“Let us all three to work.” seconded the other guard, scraping the grey sand from his face and teeth. “Two for wood and one to find good stones, and with haste.”
The prince, his mind still in the icy waters off-shore, remained motionless. He thought of the velvet-lined box which contained his rings filling with black water. He thought of a jellyfish releasing the gush of its seed into the linen of his vestments.
Snarls and howls and lunatic hoots echoed from the island wood. The sun sank and though there was was no wind the trees swayed and shuddered in the dying light.
Seeing the prince frozen there, eyes empty, his young guards raised their voices to rouse him.
“Come! We must move. Or are you curious to feel a beast’s tongue on your belly?!”
“The sea has its tongues as well, and its teeth. Let us go! Now!”
The prince imagined a mollusc sliding itself into his embroidered slipper, the viscera and slime making a home in its toe. Finally he spoke.
“Are my servants now commanders?” He asked it softly, dreamily, as though in monologue. “Has the crushing tide that brought my ship low also brought my lowly high?”
He imagined protozoa and plankton being filtered through the fine gold lattice of his ceremonial scepter. He imagined its handle being gripped now by a dark blade of kelp.
The anger rose up in him. “You dogs.” Anger at the sea. “You filth!” Anger at the Fates. “You issue orders to me!” Anger at having his ship splintered on the very day of his reaching manhood. “You dare raise your voices to command? You? The low-born sons of cheap sluts and swine? Do you not see this that I wear upon my head?!”
The sun was gone now. The sound of footpads on sand could be heard a short ways off. “Aye, I see it.” said one of the guards.
“And what is it you cretin?! What is it that even the mighty sea, which today crushed 70 skulls and whipped blood to froth, could not strip from my brow?! Answer me! What do I wear upon my head?!”
Being bred to service but never broken, the guard, looking upon the prince’s contorted face, a face which had never sprouted a whisker nor brushed the inside of a woman’s thigh, responded simply, “It is a metal hat.”
“Aye” chimed the other. It was nearly a whisper, for he was looking inland at the massive black shapes which now approached from the wood, heads down, backs broad, their knuckles leaving grooves in the moonlit sand. “And wont it look splendid leaving a gorilla’s asshole in the dawn light.”
hide full text
She wasn’t a religious woman. There was no denying that. She hadn’t given Heaven much thought at all, so to say her expectations had been confounded would not be quite accurate. And yet, moving along there on that seemingly endless escalator, she felt confounded anyhow. Not that Heaven ought to exist you understand. Not at all. People on Earth brow-beat one another about its dress code and management and admittance policies continuously, treating the whole of the world like one giant, chaotic, waiting-line, jostling and elbowing and murdering one another to get a bit closer to the velvet rope. That it existed, though admittedly surprising, did not in fact seem strange to her. It was the escalator itself which was perplexing. The thing creaked, and groaned, and was rusted to such an extent it seemed miraculous that it functioned at all.
She was afraid of heights so she didn’t look around, just straight ahead, eyes glued to the stretch of escalator directly in front of her, and staring at it with its flaking paint and leaking sealant and crumbling surfaces she began to get nervous. Alone there, high above the Earth, she said out loud, “It’s almost as though… it has been completely ignored since the day of its creation… or forgotten.”
(Note: the image, which is not actually of an escalator to heaven, was found here.)
“That’s not fair,” she cried. It was a singular moment. A moment with import undiminished by the billions upon billions exactly like it which had preceded and would flow away from it like an ever widening delta of epiphanic gall. All over the planet smug, lazy, people parroted the same empty response, “Life isn’t fair!” Life isn’t fair? This gutless, impotent echo wouldn’t do. Not tonight. Not for us. I broke with tradition and strove for a specificity which might actually reach the heart or the brain. “Sometimes the hero loses, no matter how plucky, no matter how fine his instrument or heartening the sight of his weapons. Sometimes the wolf tears open the hero’s throat, punctures his eyeball with a fang, crushes his skull, guzzles his steaming blood, and simply trots off to mate lazily and sleep the morning away like a stone.” She was quiet, unhappy with this answer evidently, unsatisfied. She was getting it finally, life. Eventually she murmured, “That’s horrible.” I looked at her, at her cheeks, her lips, her little hands, and said in response the only thing I knew for certain. “The wolf would disagree.”
Robert Edward Auctions, an auction house specializing in baseball memorabilia, recently came upon a document which is not only illuminating, but may represent the most amusing chunk of writing to be officially issued by Major League baseball in existence. Today the league is having some serious public relations problems wrestling with the use of performance enhancing drugs, in the 1890’s, when the document in question was issued, they were having serious public relations problems of another kind. Specifically they were wrestling with the constant stream of terrifically filthy language which evidently issued from their players’ mouths, in every possible direction- at umpires, opposing players, fans, women, kids, nuns, diapered toddlers…
What makes this particular document so fantastic is that in issuing these “Special Instructions To Players,” warning against foul language on the field, Major League baseball decided to reprint some of the offensive language verbatim. Hilarious.
See below and read for yourself.
Ha. God I love that.
It shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise though, considering in the 1890’s baseball players weren’t yet the over-groomed, under-motivated, millionaires we’re stuck watching today. Back then, if these guys hadn’t been playing ball they’d probably be exactly what they sounded like, longshoremen, or coal miners, or infantry grunts, or vice presidents.
A grateful hat tip to seldivider for bringing this to my attention, and giving me an excuse to coin the hyphenated term “shit-pickling.”
hide full text
If you are anything like me good reader (and since you are here at all I must assume that, in some small way at least, you are) you look at the image above, and you read the caption, and you wonder, “what does that mean?” It seems simple enough. A quirky drawing; a short caption. You can’t help but run through possibilities– A comic strip? A children’s book? An illustration from an exposé on the secrets of magic? A rejected New Yorker Cartoon? And yet… it remains opaque somehow doesn’t it?. I mean “M. Ivorde’s little man?” That seems odd. And what’s with the space helmet? And what’s that he’s holding? A metal detector? A street sweeper’s dust-pan? Just what exactly is happening here?
I came across this image accidentally, much as you have, and if you’re anything like me you’re a curious sort and would like nothing better than to just click a link real quick, satisfy that curiosity, and move on. Well, having been down that road I have to ask you, in all seriousness, is that really what you want? I mean, couldn’t you just let it go?
I don’t mean to be mysterious or coy, really I don’t. It’s just that if I, you know, put the link right here you’d click it, and having succumb to exactly the same sort of noncommittal “oh, I’ll just poke around in the dark corners of the internet with nary a care” temptation that I did, without even a smidgeon of wariness, all sense of self-preservation lulled to sleep by the comfy familiarity of the action, you might, well… lets just say I feel I ought to do you the favor of warning against it.
It’s for your own good. Really. Because you know what would happen? You’d see things, and your valuable minutes would just start slipping away like so many slapstick banana peels.
For instance, you’d see headlines, preceeded by numbers, in bold blue type, which said strange things, in clipped English translation, like–
#1. Who are these “changelings”
#19. Male UFOnauts love to impersonate saints or Jesus
#I2. How the evolution of God looked like
#8. Why I believe that I have a moral obligation, and a moral right, to declare the “telekinesis free zone”?
#B3. How “Teecee”, means my four-legged friend, companion, and teacher, was murdered with the “machine of UFOnauts for inducing cancers”, and what knowledge emerges for all of us from his painful death
#22. Bitter truth is better than sweet lie
Reading them here in the relative safety of The Nonist’s soft and uncluttered monochrome is one thing. No sweat. You can see them for what they are and chuckle a bit perhaps. But if these headlines were surrounded on all sides by dense blocks of seemingly endless text, in randomly shifting point-sizes and thicknesses, rendered throughout in black and red and blue and green? What then?
More importantly what would happen when it dawned on you that the behind a large portion of the links which pocked each page were images? Images I say! (Oh yes, I know you, with your ravenous eyes.) Would you, curious and careless internaut that you are, have the strength of will to just turn away from it all? More to the point could you resist clicking on links with descriptions like, oh, I don’t know…
The operation of the Johnson telekinetic motor.
Cross-section through the smallest Magnocraft type K3 that shows the design and main features of this starship
Personal propulsion with propulsors in epolettes.
An arrangement of oscillatory chambers called “spider configuration”.
One of Tables that combine different shapes of UFOs.
Magnetic circuits and magnetic whirl.
The design of the telepathic pyramid.
An ancient plan for a cubical Oscillatory Chamber of the first generation, recorded in the form of so-called “tanka” drawing of Tibetan Buddhists.
Path of light in a magnetic lens.
A technique for NO/NO answers in a pendulum.
I didn’t think so.
Of course clicking the links I’ve offered you was painless because I am gentle with you. I love you and don’t want to see you hurt. I don’t want your eyes to bleed and I don’t want to pierce your skull with a headache so loathsome that it went unnamed and uncataloged at the Creation.
But imagine if, instead of the neatly lined-up and underlined links above, there were hundreds, some in bold green, some in blue, some in tiny underlined black, and each one opened a new browser window, and every page was slow to load, and half the pages opened in Polish, and everywhere you clicked you found yourself more disoriented and confused, and every caption you read was full of strangeness, and every paragraph you waded into just turned you in circles and created more exasperating questions than they answered, and everywhere your eye landed there was some sort of frustrating lunacy– angels and telekinesis and UFOnauts and magnocraft and levitating tables and dipolar gravity and bandits and devils and free energy and cover-ups and changelings…
And all you wanted to know was “How M. Ivorde’s little man climbed the back wall.”
Do you see what I’m trying to tell you here?
Allow me to parallel a couple of popular quotations by way of artful clarification-
• The truth is out there.
• You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!
And you know what else? You really don’t even want to.
So please, for the miserly love of a fictitious God, please do not visit this page.
hide full text
Semantics and the Eye of the Beholder
Centuries hence, in the light of the hot world, when the Chinese-ruled ports tax starships with diamond cores and the concerns of men have melded into a single muffled sadness; when the alien cuneiforms discovered on dry sea beds have embedded themselves in human consciousness, and the letter forms of all the world’s cultures have been melded into a single system to describe a single angularly chaotic language; when seemingly infinite forms of dead media (created and mass produced and rendered obsolete within the span of a week) are our greatest natural resource and are smelted to power the chugging and clanging engines of despair…perhaps then the document pictured here will flutter against someone’s pant leg on an irradiated street, and she will pick it up gingerly in her hazmat gloves, and begin to read. Perhaps she’ll be stunned to find something in the High Unified Language written on the oldest and deadest media of all– paper. Perhaps she’ll smuggle it into her home-cubicle and pore over the words, finding them rich with subtext and subtle humor and painfully germane warnings for a populace with cheap rubber hearts and a deadness about the eyes. Perhaps she’ll be inspired and a spark of resistance will light a fire of revolution. Perhaps she’ll think it a miracle ever after.
And in the forgotten grave of a forgotten man, topped with a worn and unreadable stone, the bones of the hand which held a brush to that document will be just slightly closer than they were the day before to becoming dust.
Seed text: The first 6 lines of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem I Am Waiting (a critique of the American status quo, touching on false religiosity, crass consumerism, and the general absurdity of it all c.1958) which are as follows–
I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
Filtering mechanism employed: Google Maps.
Result: Voxx, 8230 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.
Quote: “Voxx is the world’s most pre-eminent scholar regarding Demonology and Witchcraft. Voxx is featured in the book, “The Top 100 Psychics in America.” She is an initiate of several magickal orders, and is the High Priestess of the Circle of Aradia. Among her abilities are the casting of Astrodice, Bibliomancy, Channeling, Pyromancy, Scrying, and Spirit Evocation. She is one of a handful of individuals who can fluently speak the the Magickal Enochian language. Voxx has appeared on many national television and radio shows, as well as in several films. Voxx is a published poet. Voxx is also a Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Photographer, Painter, talented electronica musician, and Multi-Media Artist. Voxx’s clients (who include the members of Motley Crue, Tara Reid, and Howard Stern) have been regularly astounded by her ability to successfully and accurately predict the names, dates and details regarding their future Soul Mates, as well as the subsequent birth of their children.”
This result was the first returned because Voxx is mentioned on a site called rip-off report by a consumer in Staten Island who had paid for and cast Voxx’s “spells” but wasn’t initially satisfied because his “demands were not being fulfilled.”
Conclusion: Intentional misuse of data filtering tools shifts context and allows for the machine discovery of multilayered, wail-worthy, illustrative perfection. Truly a wonder.
Fe7(CN)18(H2O)x where 14 ≤ x ≤ 16. RGB 0, 49, 83. HEX #003153.
Heinrich Diesbach, the German painter and colormaker, was after Cochineal Red Lake, a pigment originally obtained by crushing the bodies of cochineal insects. Toward this end, sometime in 1704, in the laboratory of alchemist Johann Konrad Dippel, Diesbach mixed iron sulphate and carbonate of potash. The potash was contaminated with animal oil, however, and the result was not Cochineal Red. The potash (an alkali) reacted with the animal oil (prepared from blood), to create potassium ferrocyanide. Mixing this with the iron sulphate, created the chemical compound iron ferrocyanide, better known as the first modern synthetic pigment ever created, albeit accidentally: Prussian Blue.
Prior to this discovery a reliable blue pigment was evidently a huge pain in the ass to make, most being rare and expensive or weak and unstable, in as much artists and dyers largely shied away from blue.
Quote: “It’s hard to imagine now, given the range of stable, lightfast colors we can buy, that in the early eighteenth century artists didn’t have an affordable or stable blue to use. Ultramarine, which is extracted from the stone lapis lazuli, was more expensive than vermilion and even gold. (In the Middle Ages, there was only one known source of lapis lazuli, which means simply ‘blue stone’. This was Badakshan, in what is now Afghanistan. Other deposits have subsequently been found in Chile and Siberia). Indigo had a tendency to turn black, was not lightfast, and had a greenish tinge. Azurite turned green when mixed with water so couldn’t be used for frescoes. Smalt was difficult to work with and had a tendency to fade. And not enough was yet known about the chemical properties of copper to consistently create a blue instead of a green.”
In 1842 British astronomer and photographer Sir John Herschel developed a cyanotyping process using Prussian Blue. It was then the only low cost process available for copying drawings. We know the resulting blue prints better as… well… blueprints.
Beyond these matters of interest to brush and pen wielders it seems Prussian Blue is actually an all around fascinating compound “extensively studied by inorganic chemists and solid-state physicists because of its unusual properties.”
For example it is electrochromic, it undergoes intervalence charge transfer, and when treated with acids the tightly bound cyanide groups of its structure can yield the delightful hydrogen cyanide– the colorless, extremely poisonous, and highly volatile liquid that boils slightly above room temperature and, famously, smells of almonds.
Also of interest, in 2006 a couple of Polish chemists were able to construct “logic gates” out of Prussian Blue.
Quote: “Konrad Szacilowski and colleagues at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow have made chemical switches out of titanium dioxide and Prussian blue, which are both commonly used paint pigments. The switches can replicate the basic logical operations in digital circuits. In addition, their behaviour can be altered by shining light on them, allowing direct input of signals from optical fibres.”
What can’t be made into a computer (or a means of digital storage) now-a-days?
Lastly, and somehow the most fascinating to me, is the following fact:
Prussian Blue can remove certain radioactive materials from people’s bodies.
Quote: “Since the 1960s, Prussian blue has been used to treat people who have been internally contaminated with radioactive cesium (mainly Cs-137) and nonradioactive thallium (once an ingredient in rat poisons). Doctors can prescribe Prussian blue at any point after they have determined that a person who is internally contaminated would benefit from treatment. Prussian blue will help speed up the removal of cesium and thallium from the body.”
Or as a 2003 AP story puts it: “The paint pigment Prussian blue could be used to protect citizens from radiation if terrorists stage a so-called “dirty bomb” attack. At present potassium iodide is the only commonly available medication for protection against radiation, although it only helps to protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine, and offers no protection to other parts of the body. However, Prussian blue binds to radioactive chemicals in the gut, thus meaning that the radioactivity is eliminated instead of being absorbed by the body. According to the FDA, the pigment reduces the time the body is contaminated after exposure by half.”
Er… I mean, Neat!
Course, even with all this historical spice to recommend it, good ol’ Prussian Blue just wasn’t good enough for some people!
hide full text
Her name is The Humanities
There has been a lively discussion going on over at Varieties of Unreligious Experience touched off by Conrad’s post Humanism and the virtue of anxiety. My mind, degenerate and poorly oiled as it is, could not help but take a particularly delightful exchange to its ultimate conclusion (pictured above through the miracle of photoshop). Rather than catastrophically lower the level of discourse there, I thought I’d post my addition where it could do no such harm- here.
Xensen: Suppose you love someone romantically—a woman, let’s say. Do you parcel out your love, setting it in scales and weighing it out against little blocks, one that says “improved character,” another that says “better self-understanding”? Or do you simply love her, without inhibition? Now suppose her name is The Humanities.
Conrad H. Roth: I do love someone romantically, and it is even a woman. However, if I spent my whole life—or even a large part of my life—stroking her lovely face, I might have reason to worry I was not spending my time as well as I should be.
Myself: Now suppose multitudes of people all over the globe love her, passionately, covetously, and these multitudes spend their whole lives stroking her face as well. This stroking, however reverent and gentle, has, through the constant attentive friction of countless fingertips, an unintended effect; A quantitative effect oblivious to the romantic clink of wine glasses and undiminished by concupiscent cooing.
The affectionate caress, when administered by a mob, feels decidedly more ardent.
Capillaries are broken, bruises formed, skin stripped, layer by layer, from her cheeks and forehead and chin. The Zygomaticus and Orbicularis oculi and Oribicularis oris are tenderized, breaking peptide bonds between amino acids and dissolving sinewy connections. Her lovely face breaks down. The fervent hands of the multitudes, with fingertips pressing into a slurry of scrap and cartilage, caress their way straight through the processes of autolysis, putrefaction, decay, and diagenesis until they are left, finally, pawing at a beautifully polished bone.
The image is adapted from a shot of Clown Skull by Vik Muniz, 1989.
Any resemblance to loved ones, living or institutional, is purely coincidental.
hide full text