Art and "American Sniper"

UnknownI saw "American Sniper" last night and thought it was a good, post-modern war movie. It had all the tropes a war movie needs: hero, battles, two dimensional enemies, sacrifice, tender moments, and triumphant resolution. But it also, if you can see them, presents the moments of doubt, pathos, and dehumanizing that my left wing compatriots are so up in arms about it lacking. The Chris Kyle I saw was a simple, straight forward cowboy who wanted to serve his country, and did so doing what he did best- shooting long distances. I saw a decent man, deadened inside by the arcade-like quality of his work, whose manly facade would not admit doubt - his or those of his wife and (a few) fellow soldiers.

So, art.

We see what we want to see. Think of Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will." Today, we find it chilling and discuss the fascist film techniques that make it so. But Germans of the day probably found it uplifting and beautiful. And, significantly, if the film had been about the US, our immediate ancestors would generally have had the same reaction. The movie "Mash" was a bold middle finger to the establishment when it came out. I watched it recently and was appalled by the blatant sexism. The movie didn't change; I did.

Context helps.

I was not a particular fan of Pablo Picasso's work until I saw a series of photographs of him working on "Guernica." What is fascinating about his work is his process. How he got from, say, the five naked women sitting in front of him (reality) to the image he abandoned on the canvas, "le demoiselles d'avignon" (art). His genius was to break away from the necessity of depicting reality ( which art can never do, anyway) and explore form and color. Fascinating.

So, "American Sniper."

Clint Eastwood knows how to construct a good movie, And this one is good on it's own terms. It's even good for someone who believes Iraq was a mistake and that war has consequences for the survivors. If you're old-school "my country, right or wrong," you can love this movie and Chris Kyle's life on those terms. If you're a post-colonial American, Eastwood has touched on those hesitancies, which I understand were not in the book.

You see the movie, or the painting you want to see.

Inside the artist's studio

How is sausage made? What REALLY goes on in an operating room? What do super-models talk about when they're not pouting? These questions have plagued mankind for generations.  Another, perhaps lesser, subject of conjecture has been the goings on in that cauldron of creativity, the art studio. Here's the classic image:


Just a bunch of folks hanging out with Courbet while he creates a masterpiece. I especially like that there's a semi-clothed metaphor looking over his shoulder. Nudity is a reoccurring theme:


As is the artist's sartorial selections:


Reality, unfortunately, is not so romantic, or even Romantic. Here's a guy you might know....


Well, Picasso probably deserved an entire mansion for a studio. By way of comparison, images from my little (too little) den of artiquity:

MySTudio1     MyStudio2

Notice there's no room for a semi-clothed metaphor, even if I had one.

How to Make a Picture

Here are the steps I use to create an architectural image for a client. They are the same steps for drawing/painting any urban environment.

Reference photo. Second attempt ( first was a bad angle) A challenging subject… what to leave and what to cut?

First Sketches (later colored with prismacolor pencils for painting reference) Note non-straight lines, forced perspective, opening and closing doors, moving cars. Aesthetics trump reality!

Final pencil drawing. Traced with light box onto watercolor paper.

Aborted ink drawing. Line of far building’s roof sagged too much. I draw freehand and want “organic” lines- that one was a bit TOO organic

Finished ink drawing with crosshatch shading and photoshop clean-up. Client will use this version in some applications.

Aborted ink drawing used as color test.

Final watercolor. Note deeper contrasts and slight changes in this drawing.

The Miracle of Recorded Art

Just reading Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" and laughing out loud at some of her drolleries. It struck me how marvelous to put something out in the world that can cause physical pleasure twenty years after you laid it down. How some guy you'll never know in North Carolina is At This Moment appreciating your voice. Then I thought of Shakespeare, who is - as you probably know - long dead. The immense joy his brief years of work have brought, long beyond his knowing or caring. (He, in all probability, cared most about the day's receipts in the cashbox. But maybe, hopefully, not.)

Of course, this applies to other media. Crying along with Patsy Klein as she admits, "She's Got You"; shaking your head in amazement at Vermeer's brushwork in "Girl with the Pearl," basking in the beauty and originality of Marlon Brando in "Streetcar Named Desire."  And it is pleasant to think, on some much smaller stage, that my books and drawings might well bring pleasure to some child on another continent (thank you, Amazon), or cause some yet-to-be-born husband to ask his yet-to-be-born wife, "what are you laughing at, honey?"

"Oh, a book by some dead guy," she'll say.

And that's just cool.

Although, I admit, I do spend some time wondering what today's receipts are like ( and I'd bet Anne Lamott occasionally does, too). But the unparalleled treasure is the one I'll never see, but one I get only hints and echoes of.

A Poem

And if you white, middle class dinosaurs

Think the boys in blue in Bagdad drag

Have nothing to do with you,

Just wait

Just wait ‘til you’ve had enough

enough sixteen dollar chicken

enough seven dollar milk

enough five dollar gas

With nary a raise in a decade

With nothing but a big empty smile

From your “elected representative”

And you bow up a little

And say, “Hey, ain’t this my country too?”

Like the people of Ferguson said

Like black people been saying for 150 years

See how the answer comes

Hard as a rubber bullet

Fast as a teargas wind

Direct as the boot on your neck

And the bought cop in “riot gear”

Whose boot it shall be


“Get down on the ground, motherfucker

Bow out flat to the New American Empire

Of which you, too, now

Are a little bit next to nothing”