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Sunday, January 26, 2014

We've all turned into Eric Idle. And that's sad.

This blog often prints non-political posts on the weekend. This one's more discursive than most.

Dog report. My hell-hound Bella is very stoned. That's because she's very sick again: Lethargy, refusal to eat, distended stomach. The vet prescribed a drug called Metronidazole, which is supposed to cure whatever is ailing her little intestines. But the side effects of that drug are lethargy and lack of appetite, which puts us right back where we started.

Another side effect: My dog is higher than the International Space Station. She looks at me as though she has no idea who I am. On the rare occasions when she rises from her bed, she's obviously listening to an extremely spacey rendition of "Tomorrow Never Knows" that no-one else can hear.

The doggie-doctor doesn't think she has cancer. I hope he's right about that. If I could allow myself any belief in the supernatural, I'd ask for help from my favorite saint. She had a sheepdog named Pigou and would no doubt sympathize with my worries.

Art (Nudge nudge!) Although my schedule is pretty busy right now, one of these days -- soon -- I'd like to justify my miserable existence by picking up the brush again. As readers know, I collect oil paints. Maybe it is time to put that collection to use.

But there's a problem. In an age characterized by the Hypersexualization of Everything, how does an artist find models?

I don't want to paint nudes. Honest. Sure, there was a time when that sort of thing had a certain appeal, but now that my beard has more salt than pepper, my concerns are elsewhere.

Nowadays, alas, anyone who says "I'm looking for a model to photograph" is automatically presumed to be a letch and a fiend -- even if he simply wants reference photos of ordinary people doing ordinary stuff.

In our sick culture, everyone's default mode is set to "Eric Idle": Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Say no more.

"Reference photos?" you ask warily. "Isn't that cheating?"

Oh, come on. Wipe that look of disapproval off your face. Realistic artists have used reference photos since cameras were invented, and it's no use pretending otherwise. I once saw the photo used for St. Joseph in this painting, and that takes us all the way back to 1849. True, some American giants -- N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker -- didn't use photo ref, but Maxfield Parrish and Frederick Remington did. The trick is to do it right

Norman Rockwell was quite open about this practice. Here's one of his most famous images:

Now, I think I could do a picture like this. It ain't easy. But...maybe. What I can't conjure up is the reference photo:

This image is the true miracle. It cannot be recreated in today's world.

Think about it: How would a modern Norman Rockwell go about finding models and setting up the shoot? It's pretty easy to guess how the scene would play out...
21st century Norman Rockwell: First thing, I'll need a model who's a really big guy. Dressed like a cop.

21st century Everyperson, in Eric Idle mode: Say no more. Going all Village People on us, Norman? Looking to paint a macho, macho man? Nudge nudge. Wink wink.

21st century Norman Rockwell: And the other model I need is a little boy, about eight. Butch haircut, Buster Brown shoes...

21st century Everyperson, in Eric Idle mode: Woah! Say no more. Literally. The NSA is probably opening up a file on you right now, as we speak. For shame, Mr. Rockwell!
In today's culture, staging that photo would be impossible. Impossible.

Okay, maybe you could do the job in Los Angeles -- if you can prove that you are a reputable television producer, and if you have a ton of money. But Norman Rockwell was just an average guy who asked other average people to pose for him. He always slipped them a few dollars for their trouble. The photo shoot would take maybe an hour, nobody went into Eric Idle mode, nobody accused Norm of being a perv, and it was all No Big Deal.

(Side note: When I first saw a reproduction of the "Runaway" painting, I was roughly the same age as the boy in the picture. What really fascinated me were those silver chairs. They seemed so real. If you carefully study the original photo, you'll see several people reflected in the silver, including what appears to be Rockwell himself.)

So let's say I decided to paint a picture of my favorite saint in the meadow with her dog Pigou. (Would I actually paint so sentimental an image? Yes -- if money were involved.) How does one go about finding a model? And once one finds a suitable 12 year old girl, what does one say to her parents?

"I just want to take a few shots of your daughter. But she has to be dressed a certain way. I'll pay...!"

(Sound FX: Door slamming in face. Or maybe fist slamming in face.)

Yet Norman Rockwell, in his day, could put together a photo shoot like that quite easily. He did it all the time. That was his job.

In today's world, Norman Rockwell simply could not do business.

Once again, the Hypersexualization of Everything makes it impossible to do anything. Why do we live in such a bizarre, restrictive society? We had more freedom when people didn't talk about sex.

Last word: I noticed something odd while watching the clip embedded above. At no time does Eric Idle actually say "Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more." Like "Play it again, Sam," that's one of the great lines-they-never-actually-said.
If you're on facebook, check out Humans of New York.

He's figured out how to take pictures without being accused of being a letch.
I don't do Facebook. Can you tell me the secret?
Joe, you'd be very interested in the new documentary "Tim'S Vermeer," in which a tech millionaire spends months trying to replicate Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" via a mirror technique that is essentially tracing the live models onto the canvas.
You aren't the only one with dog health troubles. My chihuahua, Sam, was diagnosed a week ago with congestive heart failure. He has to have three medications for the rest of his life, but I don't know how in the world I am going to be able to pay for them in the near term. Thanks to not working in December, I have virtually NO money coming in at all for the next three weeks. I am scared I am going to lose the dog.
I've always been interested in photography as both history and art. Brady and Vishniac, even if staged, teach us about history. There was a book called The Family of Man, again both art and history. In 1969, at the World's Fair in Montreal there was a similar book, which I bought (and lost). With photoshop, it seems that the possibilities for art have expanded, but I now discover that manipulated photography has existed for quite some time. In fact, there was an exhibition of that at the National Gallery last year. It's a good excuse for me to go down to Barnes and Noble and see what I can find there.
My mother used models and photographs, Joe. This was in the 70s and 80s. Even then it raised neighborhood eyebrows. People who are not invested in creative work just don't get it. Or they suspect the very worst. The suspicion is probably heightened for male artists. For better or worse, it's the world we live in. For every Norman Rockwell, there are thousands of artists toiling away in makeshift studios. Because it's who they are and what they do.

Oh, btw. I read he article Trojan Joe mentioned. Fascinating stuff!

Try food that smells good or baby food which is easy on the insides.
I second anonymous on the smelly foods for the Bella hound!

Ai, Susan. My brother just paid a fortune for an operation on his dog. Could your vet not tide you over with some samples at first? There may be resources with reduced cost vet care?

As for we've all become Eric Idle...if only! I just watched clip where Salvador Dali was on "What's my Line?" and I wondered where are shows like that these days? Would a painter be so recognized today that the contestants would have to be blindfolded so as not to recognize him?
Peggysue: Actually, I'd like to hear more about your Mom's experiences.
zee, perhaps my readers can help susan out.

I can't think of any painter in history as identifiable as Dali, so the blindfolds were needed in that case. Nowadays -- no, I can't think of one who would require blindfolds.

But my post was really about our society's attitude toward sex. Seriously, suppose you wanted to hire a model for a painting. Suppose you were male. Suppose you wanted the process to be without sniggers or insinuations against your character.

How would you go about it?

It can't be done!

Lamenting the inhibitions on photo ops seems kind of silly when you could just canvas the porn world for your reference photo.
The porn world? Seriously?

I should go to "the porn world" for a reference photo of a cop? Of an eight year old boy? Of a 12 year old girl? Dressed a certain way, and in a certain position? As reference for a NON-SEXUAL painting?

You REALLY don't get it, do you? Did you even READ what I wrote?

Y'see, my topic really wasn't art. That was just a way of getting at the topic I REALLY wanted to talk about.

I wanted to address the changes in our society.

Norman Rockwell lived in a saner America, where he could arrange for a photo shoot involving average people. They were happy to help. Nobody made smarmy remarks. Nobody presumed that he was taking dirty pictures.

We no longer live in that world.

We now live in a sick, sick world where everyone automatically assumes that the only reason one human being would photograph another human being is to have something to look at while masturbating.

Thus, if I say that I'm looking for a 50 year old male or a 14 year old female to pose for me, I have to deal with all sorts of sick people...

...people like YOU...

...who automatically presume that my only possible reason for wanting to take such a photo is that I want to fuck a person like that.

Similarly, as noted in an earlier post, one may not have dinner with another human being without everyone presuming that the two of you are sizing each other up for a fuck.

That did not used to be the case. But that's the way things are now.

More and more, I've come to understand that the sexual revolution ruined everything. Everyday life is made much more difficult (and lonely) because all human interaction is now immediately translated into sexual terms.

And you exemplified that problem with your "porn" remark. That's it right there. The Hypersexualization of Everything in a nutshell.

Jesus. How can you people LIVE in such a fucked-up culture? I want things to be the way they used to be when I was young!
The hypersexualization of everything? U.S. culture is a schizoid mess. A total mess. Try teaching high school freshmen and sophomores.

Our culture and society was lost when the science of psychology was perfected as a tool to manipulate the beliefs and values of consumers
and the voting public.

Canvas the porn world for a reference photo? Just clueless. Even if you wanted a nonsexual picture of a pretty unclothed woman this wouldn't work. Oh, you can't comprehend the concept of a nonsexual picture of an unclothed woman? You're making the point for us then.
Good sir, I know this post is about the hypersexualization of everything but I've been working diligently to improve my skills in drawing, painting and sculpting for the last year or so and some of the artists who I follow (on youtube) suggest getting stock images from deviant art or take selfies in interesting poses.

I've also from time to time ran across great vintage photos of people long since deceased at trade shows and flea markets. I also have been routinely using photos I have taken of my rather large family just to practice.

For my current project (a 4' tall paper mache giraffe which has turned out quite, quite well) I downloaded pitchers of giraffes off the internet, dug out pitchers of giraffes I had taken years ago at the Tyler, Tx Zoo and read up about the creatures at National Geographic.

But finding pictures probably isn't even an overriding concern. I'd say staging a photo shoot like a lot of other artists have done is no longer practical because of the extreme costs involved. Hiring the models, clothing the models, renting or paying for a location, the cost of the equipment involved, etc. I'd say the last barrier to breech in a project like this would be the hypersexualization of America but rather the difficulty of putting together the scene in the first place.
Greg, I use online photo ref all the time. But there are plenty of situations where that isn't good enough. There are times when you need something specific -- a hand in a certain position, a face of a certain type lit in a certain way.

My point is, I shouldn't HAVE to be relegated to Google images or iStockphoto. If Norman Rockwell could do it, why can't I?

And I would definitely counter your suggestion that cost is the key factor. A photo shoot was rather expensive in Rockwell's day. Certainly it was more expensive back when the Pre-Raphs were scampering about. I have a used Nikon cheapie point-and-shoot camera which can take very detailed photos, and the cost is...nothing.

Rockwell would pay his models a few dollars. I'm sure that when he became famous, he paid better. But even when he was starting out, he always tried to pay a little something. And his neighbors were happy to help out.

Why can't things be like that now?

Google images is a wonderful resource. But why should I HAVE to rely on it?
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