Somebody asked me* if I have any opinion on NFTs, or if I’d be doing an episode of Stocks: Let’s Talk about them. Truth: I do not understand them. I’m trying to gain insight. Why you’d pay lots of money for “ownership” of a digital artwork, or even stranger, pay $2.9 million for “ownership” of Jack Dorsey’s tweets, I don’t get. I’ve read through a lot of message boards and arguments that tend to cycle through the same stuff:
- why would you own something anyone can look at?
- well what about “owning” the Mona Lisa, anyone can look at that but it’s still valuable?
- why would you need to “own” a Picasso, just for bragging rights, this is same as
- what about Walter Benjamin’s “aura”?
- there’s too much money around
- the art market has always had an element of money laundering
- it’s a speculative bubble, it’s like the Dutch tulip craze (contra: we don’t understand the Dutch tulip craze, there was no Dutch tulip craze)
Here’s my one attempt at an original thought, or at least a thought I haven’t seen before: what if people are speculating is that these early NFTs (Beeple’s art, or Jack Dorsey’s tweet) will someday be valuable as digital artifacts, as early works from a new scene, or even a new kind of art?
There’s a scene in the movie Basquiat where Andy Warhol (David Bowie) flips through some postcards offered by Basquiat. I’ve watched that scene and thought, damn, a Basquiat has sold for $110.5 million, if you had just one of those postcards from back then you could at least trade it for enough cash to buy a sweet beach house!
I’ve also pondered in idle moments whether Madonna, who dated Basquiat, has more wealth in the form of Basquiat paintings than she does in her own music catalog. Surely it’s possible she has four or five of her ex-boyfriend’s paintings lying around, which could equal $100 mill easily. (Worse, what if she destroyed them in a fit of grief or jealousy?)
What if people are just betting that the NFT, or the ownership of the image of a tweet, or something, will someday be valuable just as an artifact or sample from this insane time, a time that was pretty interesting in terms of its invention?
The authentication of art has always been an issue, and a challenge. Consider John Berger talking about how much time is spent proving a Leonardo is a Leonardo at the National Gallery:
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has so many Impressionist paintings they don’t know what to do with them all, they’ve got a Van Gogh they keep in storage.
At the time the MFA’s greatest patrons were acquiring art, a Van Gogh wasn’t even that valuable. What was considered valuable art at that time, I once asked a curator there? Stuff like this, she said:
Maybe this is all just marketing spend for crypto/blockchain speculators, as someone suggested somewhere, I can’t remember.
Art speculation is hard! My guess is that NFTs will end up about as valuable as a complete set of 1986 Topps baseball cards, which I once speculatively bought myself as a youth.
Good luck to all the players.
*always funny when someone uses “since people have asked” or “someone asked me” as a setup for writing. In this case I swear I being honest! It was Eben!
Word went out on the community message board that people were finding dead jackrabbits. Healthy looking jackrabbits that appeared to have just dropped dead. There was a plague going around. A jackrabbit plague. RHD2. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease two. The two distinguishes it from original RHD. Bad news, a plague of any kind. Sure enough, a few days later, I saw on the remote camera on the back porch of my cabin out in the Mojave a bird picking at what looked like the muscles and bones of what used to be a jackrabbit.
I drove out there, and found that yes indeed, this had been a jackrabbit. Whether it had died of plague, I don’t know, it seemed possible. I bagged it for disposal, and poured some disinfectant on the ground, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The next day, I found another dead jackrabbit. This jackrabbit did not appear to have been hurt in any way. Her eye was open to me. This jackrabbit appeared to have gone into the shade and died. There was no visible trauma and no blood. I didn’t want to get too close, but this was the best chance to examine a jackrabbit, up close and at rest, that I’d ever had. Usually the jackrabbits are fast and on the move. Once they sense you seeing them, they take off.
I won’t put a picture of it here, in case a picture of a dead jackrabbit would upset you. In a way the lack of damage and the animal’s beauty made it much more sad and eerie. It reminded me of Dürer’s drawing of a young hare. I read the Wikipedia page about Dürer’s drawing, which departs from the usual impartial tone to quote praise for the drawing’s mastery:
it is acknowledged as a masterpiece of observational art alongside his Great Piece of Turf from the following year. The subject is rendered with almost photographic accuracy, and although the piece is normally given the title Young Hare, the portrait is sufficiently detailed for the hare to be identified as a mature specimen — the German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare.
Dürer’s drawing of a walrus is less acclaimed:
The drawing is generally considered as not successful; and is viewed as curious attempted depiction that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor anatomically true to life. Art historians assume the artist drew it from memory having viewed a dead example during a 1520 visit to Zeeland to see a stranded whale which had decomposed before his arrival. Referring to the depiction departure for nature, Durer’s animal has been described as “amusing…it looks more like a hairless puppy with tusks. When Dürer drew from life his accuracy was unquestionable, but he had only briefly seen a walrus, and had only fleeting memory and an elaborate verbal description from which to reconstruct the image”.
The jackrabbit is very similar to the European hare. The suggestion of the magical power of hares is a common theme in Celtic literature and the literature and folklore of the British Isles. We all remember the March Hare.
Most Americans are confused as to just what hares are, chiefly because we are accustomed to calling some of them jackrabbits. Biologically, the chief differences between hares and rabbits are that hares are born with hair and open eyes and can hop about immediately, while rabbits are naked, blind and helpless as birth.
I learned from this book:
which contains recipes for hares, including jugged hare, hasenpfeffer, and hare civit.
Of all the game animals you can hunt in California: elk, wild big, bear, turkey, bighorn sheep, deer, duck, chukar, dove, quail, the jackrabbit alone can be hunted all year round*. There is no season, and there’s no limit. On one of my first trips to California, I was taken out to the desert with the Gamez boys on a jackrabbit hunt. We only saw a few jackrabbits. Nobody got off a good shot at one. I doubt we really wanted to kill one, we just wanted to drive around the desert, shoot guns, and have fun, which we did very successfully.
During the pandemic I got my California hunting license, you could do it entirely online due to Covid restrictions. But I don’t intend to hunt jackrabbits, I don’t want to be like Elmer Fudd.
The meat is said to be quite dry, tough, and gamey. Most recipes call for long simmerings.
If you ever find out in the desert where you must hunt a jackrabbit for food, here’s the Arizona Game and Fish Department telling you how to butcher one.
Artist unknown, 1881, from the Bethel Moore Custer Ledger, one of many amazing works over at Plains Indian Ledger Art.
Bethel Moore Custer was, apparently, not related to the “other” Custer.
Some local street art (by Bandit?). Since painted over I believe. At least I can’t find it.
Photo I took in William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS.
from this WSJ commentary by Kate Bachelder Odell about leadership failures in the US Navy.
“Soldiers bathing, North Anna River, Va.–ruins of railroad bridge in background,” by Timothy O’Sullivan. May 1864. The work of Timothy O’Sullivan has my attention. Follow his photos on the Library of Congress and you’ll travel in time.
by Alexander Hope.
Original Caption: Subway train on the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, New York. The problem of how to move people and goods is ultimately bound up with the quality of life everywhere. The lands adjacent to the Bight, rivers flowing into it, and bays and estuaries edging it have direct upon the environment of the coastal water. The New York, New Jersey metropolitan region is one of the most congested in the world, 05/1974.
Just thought this was funny.
Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of five children of an Irish captain in the merchant marine. Having been left fatherless at a young age, Healy helped to support his mother. At sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at developed an ambition to be an artist. Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, aided him, loaning him a Guido’s “Ecce Homo”, which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Thomas Sully, by whose advice Healy profited, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter’s adversity.
so far as I know no relation, there are plenty of Healys and Helys from here to Australia.
He painted Tyler
and drew Grant.
He’s got a few that have appeared in the White House, like this one, The Peacemakers.
Interested in the Goya drawing, in his series Los Desastres de la Guerra, where his only commentary is “yo lo vi.” I saw it. What else is there to say sometimes?
For the first three centuries after his death, this Renaissance artist [Matthias Grünewald] did not attract much attention. But around 1900 the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans made a passionate plea for the relevance and modernity of Grünewald. In his description of the altar at Isenheim, Huysmans called attention to Grünewald’s shocking insistence on the physical details of Christ’s suffering, alerting its beholder to the disgusting marks of torture and the signs of dying and decomposing flesh (figs. 1a and 1b). Such a Christ, Huysmans observed, is no longer the well-groomed, handsome man who has been venerated by the rich and powerful throughout the ages. Grünewald’s Christ is rather the “God of the Poor. The one who chose the company of those in misery and of those who had been rejected, of all those for whose ugliness and need the world could only feel contempt.”3 And it was exactly this approach to pain and suffering highlighted by Huysmans that subsequently became a point of reference for many artists who invoked Grünewald’s work, especially when they cited the triptych from the Isenheim altarpiece or The Mockery of Christ (fig. 2)from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich
source for all that.
A bit dreary? But you take what you can get I guess!
Regular readers of this website will know I’ve expressed some reservations about whether the Peñasco Blanco pictograph actually depicts a supernova from the year 1054 AD. It’s an exciting theory. For background, here’s what Timothy Pauketat has to say about it in his excellent book on Cahokia:
On that morning, recorded by a Chinese astrologer as July 4, a brilliant new luminary appeared in the sky. It was a “guest star,” a supernova, a visitor in the constellation Taurus, visible today with a high-powered telescope as the Crab Nebula. One of only fifty supernovas ever recorded – only three in our own Milky Way galaxy* – this nuclear detonation was the last gasp of a dying star. The inaudible explosion discharged a billion times more energy than the small star had previously emitted, and that morning a brilliant beacon – four times brighter than Venus – appeared in the daylight adjacent to a crescent moon…
Whatever i might have meant to the native peoples, a New Mexican Mimbres valley potter commemorated the celestial event by painting a pot with a star ad the foot of a crescent-shaped rabbit, a representation of the rabbit many indigenous North Americans believed resided in the moon. Ancient rock art in Arizona also appears to illustrate the supernova, as do petrogylphs in Missouri, which show the moon and supernova astride rabbit tracks. And in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a map of the night sky in July 1054 was painted on the sandstone cliffs above a palatial-sized, multi-story Great House called Peñasco Blanco, under construction at about the same time in the middle of the eleventh century. The pictograph shows the exploding star next to a crescent moon and a human hand, the later possibly representing a group of stars still known among Plains Indians today as the Hand constellation. Also in Chaco Canyon, construction began around this time on a massive new kiva, an underground ceremonial building, now called Casa Rinconada, just south of the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito.
There was a “big bang” culturally in North America around 1000 AD, and it is interesting that around that same time, there were two supernovas, bright new stars in the sky.
Recently I had the opportunity to have a look at the so-called Supernova Pictograph in its location in Chaco Canyon, New Mex. Seeing it myself provoked some thought.
One observation is that there’s a huge amount of rock art in Chaco Canyon. I consider myself kind of a petroglyph enthusiast, but even for a passionate fan, there’s a lot. You’ll actually get pretty bored of looking at petroglyphs. Much of the rock art in the canyon is striking and weird.
Some of it feels pretty crude and amateur, or could be attributed to later visitors.
But the Super-Nova / Peñasco Blanco pictograph really stands out, both in vividness and in the drama of its location.
It’s almost upside down. Was it painted Sistine Chapel style?
The pictoglyph is on what I guess? could be a very old trail, that leads up from Chaco Wash to a mesa where the Peñasco Blanco “great house” sits. The Peñasco Blanco site is huge:
It was three stories tall and had 300 rooms. Construction had begun by the 900s, so before the appearance of the supernovas of the 1000s.
The structure was laid out with some thought to north-south alignment, as most Chaco sites seem to have been. To me it does suggest something like an astronomical theater:
On the day I was there I was the only person around, which is a spooky feeling.
The site reminded me of Irish monastic sites from the same era:
Certainly whoever was hanging around Peñasco Blanco was interested in the sky.
The park service is not shy about identifying this pictoglyph as depicting a super-nova:
Note the sign, bottom right. But I’m just not sure the evidence is there.
Krupp’s investigations have ultimately caused him to dismiss all of the connections between Southwest cave paintings and the Crab supernova. “I am certain that star-crescent combos have absolutely nothing to do with the 1054 A.D. event,” he said. While some may indeed be celestial symbols, “their meaning varies with culture and time.”
from a 2014 Scientific American piece, “‘Supernova’ Cave Art Myth Debunked,” by Clara Moskowitz.
On the other hand:
from a 1979 paper, “The 1054 Supernova and Native American Rock Art,” by Brandt, J. C. & Williamson, R. A. in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, Archaeoastronomy Supplement, Vol. 10, p.S1
There’s no way to reliably date a work like this. Chaco Canyon was occupied or had at least semi-frequent visitors around 1054 AD, and these visitors were absolutely interested in sky events. The dating of the pictograph is usually attributed to nearby pottery shards. You can still find ancient pottery lying around all over the place.
One thing is clear: if these people had a message they wanted to leave for us from one thousand plus years ago, it is “hand – crescent – star.”
A day before visiting this site I had lunch with a friend of mine who works on shooting lasers at rocks on Mars to determine their chemical makeup. We’re still OBSESSED with the sky!
Cartoons in the sense of “designs for tapestries.” The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.
St. Paul Preaching in Athens.
Christ’s Charge to Peter.
Loved this, from the Wikipedia page:
Raphael—whom Michelangelo greatly disliked—was highly conscious that his work would be seen beside the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which had been finished only two years before, and took great care perfecting his designs, which are among his largest and most complicated. Originally the set was intended to include 16 tapestries. Raphael was paid twice by Leo, in June 1515 and December 1516, the last payment apparently being upon completion of the work. Tapestries retained their Late Gothic prestige during the Renaissance. Most of the expense was in the manufacture: although the creation of the tapestries in Brussels cost 15,000 ducats, Raphael was paid only 1,000.
King Charles I of England, who had a pretty good eye for art, bought them while he was still a prince.
In Charles’ day these were stored in wooden boxes in the Banqueting House, Whitehall. They were one of the few items in the Royal Collection withheld from sale by Oliver Cromwell after Charles’ execution.
remind me of this one:
some cities are like a theme park of themselves.
Amsterdam: a water park? Blessed with an unusually bright day. You think of the history.
Took a reading on my altimeter:
Books avail at hotel. At the Rijksmuseum they have Jan Willem Pieneman’s enormous painting of Waterloo.
I, Albrect Dürer of Nuremberg painted myself thus, with undying color, at the age of twenty-eight years.
So says the writing on this one. Whether the color is “undying” we’ll see*. The painting is five hundred and eighteen years old.
What was going on with Northern Renaissance art? After a visit to the San Diego Art Museum, decided to buy myself a book about what SDMA calls “early Netherlandish art.”
This is the book that I got, and I love it and recommend it. Beautiful, readable, dense, one of the best art history books I’ve ever gotten into. Susie Nash is an expert on the Well of Moses, or Great Cross, at Dijon.
The Well of Moses was commissioned by Philip the Bold, who through his “brilliant marriage to the heiress Margaret of Flanders” brought that region into Duchy of Burgundy. Claus Sluter, the sculptor made the pleurants, “the Mourners of Dijon,” for the tomb of Philip. I saw these when they came through the Met years ago.
By the time Philip the Bold’s grandson, Philip the Good, was Duke of Burgundy, the Burgundian chunks of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and northern France were rich, full of prospering towns with craftsmen of all kinds, and fledgling networks of banking and trade, and ancient churches and castles.
The gem may have been Bruges, kind of an international banking/trade center, the Hong Kong of its day(?)
in Bruges a clause in the carpenters’ and sculptors’ guild by-laws allowed craftsmen to work at night when “a sale or contract has been made with a merchant (whose) ship is there ready to sail.”
Gheeraert’s map of Bruges:
Between The Hundred Years’ War and a mad King, France was suffering. Paris had kind of gone to shit around 1420.
There were all kinds of wonderful and wild things being made in the Northern Renaissance: tapestries, illuminated books, glass and brass. Statues of the Christ Child with jointed arms. Says Nash:
The ability to dress sculpture and adapt it in various ways was also key to the popularity of life-size carved and painted Christ Child figures, which might have jointed arms and their own set of clothes, some of which survive today. These figures could be used for more intimate devotional activities. Textual sources from female convent communities concern the part played by these and similar figures of the Christ Child with its crib in contemplative and richly imaginative activities, during which the nun was encouraged to pick up the child, suckle it, and so on.
And so on.
Nash places a lot of this work in the context of a tradition of contemplation. You were supposed to really be staring at and contemplating, say, Christ on the cross.
How about the works of Master W with Key?
As for the Dukes of Burgundy, the drama of their lives becomes vivid from even a barebones review of major incidents. John the Fearless, murdered on the bridge at Montereau, the monk presenting his skull to the King of France: “Sire, this is the hole through which England entered France.” Charles The Bold, lost in the freezing cold at Nancy, killed by Swiss mercenaries, his body found in a frozen river. Mary the Rich, and Margaret of Austria, killed by a shard of broken glass.
Dramatic centuries followed for this part of the world. So much of early Netherlandish // Northern Renaissance art was lost or destroyed. “A wave of iconoclasm swept the Netherlands,” and that was just the beginning. Nash has a great picture I can’t find online of the city gate of Berne, chopped up for firewood in 1865. The town halls of Brussels and Paris were both burnt, Tournai and Ypres were bombed and shelled. The Allies found the Ghent altarpiece in a salt mine.
Last one, from a prayer book made for Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV.
This is not Margaret receiving an actual vision of the Virgin – she was not known as a visionary and indeed was note even particularly devout, if her contemporary reputation is true: she famously requested, on her sickbed, to contemplate a parade of her best dresses instead of a crucifix.
The Northern Renaissance – they’re just like us!
* some controversy over the translation here. My Latin is rusty but I like “undying” or “everlasting” better than “appropriate.”
The first extant record of his life comes from the court of John of Bavaria at The Hague where, between 1422 and 1424, payments were made to Meyster Jan den malre (Master Jan the painter) who was then a court painter with the rank of valet de chambre, with at first one and then two assistants.
Did he have help from his older brother Hubert on this one?
The notes on his preparatory drawing for Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati are written in the Maasland dialect.
His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN (“AS I CAN”), a pun on his name,
Van Eyck undertook a number of journeys on Philip the Duke of Burgundy’s behalf between 1426 and 1429, described in records as “secret” commissions, for which he was paid multiples of his annual salary. Their precise nature is still unknown, but they seem to involve his acting as envoy of the court. In 1426 he departed for “certain distant lands”, possibly to the Holy Land, a theory given weight by the topographical accuracy of Jerusalem in The Three Marys at the Tomb, a painting completed by members of his workshop c. 1440.
Though now some attribute this one to Hubert. (I dunno, not astounded myself by the topographical accuracy here.)
A better documented commission was the journey to Lisbon along with a group intended to prepare the ground for the Duke’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal. Van Eyck’s was tasked with painting the bride, so that the Duke could visualise her before their marriage. Because Portugal was ridden with plague, their court was itinerant and the Dutch party met them at the out of the way castle of Avis. Van Eyck spent nine months there, returning to the Netherlands with Isabella as a bride to be; the couple married on Christmas Day of 1429. The princess was probably not particularly attractive, and that is exactly how Van Eyck conveyed her in the now lost portrait.
Eyck’s own wife:
I was looking into Van Eyck because I was wondering, who did Hieronymous Bosch learn from?
“What’re they gonna have at the San Diego Museum of Art?” I said, sneering. “A statue of a fish taco? An exhibit of craft IPA labels? A fluorescent Jeep Wrangler? A Tony Gwynn jersey?*”
This had been my scoffer’s attitude. But on the website of SDMA I learnt that they have a painting by Hieronymous Bosch, The Arrest of Christ.
Seeing a close to 500 year old painting by a weirdo master seemed worth a short Uber.
I was really impressed with SDMA! Small, but packed with wonders. Something good everywhere. There was an exhibit of “Golden Age of Spain” art that I didn’t even bother with. (Usually I find I like the art that came right before the golden age?)
The wall placard attributes Christ Arrested to the Workshop of Hieronymous Bosch, not Bosch himself. And how about Madonna of the Roses, by Pseudo-Pier Francesco Fiorentino?
Or Portrait of a Man by an unknown Flemish artist (once attributed to Hans Memling):
Goya, You Who Cannot. (They must have a bunch more Goyas in storage).
11th century Sambander.
George Inness, Farm Landscape, Cattle in Pasture—Sunset, Nantucket
Thomas Hart Benton, After Many Days.
An untitled work by George Copeland Ault.
Giotto, God The Father with Angels.
Sunday Afternoon, Hughie Lee Smith.
In The Patio by Georgia O’Keefe.
Anyway. This was all a nice break from Comic-Con.
At Comic-Con I heard that the X-Men are coming back.
* cheers to Jeff K. for this last punchline.
Basquiat’s “Pink Elephant with Fire Engine,” depicting cartoonish images on yolk-colored background, hammered at 2.2 million pounds, falling short of the low estimate of 3 million pounds.
painted here by Philip James de Loutherbourg, who sounds cool as shit:
a Franco-British painter who became known for his large naval works, his elaborate set designs for London theatres, and his invention of a mechanical theatre called the “Eidophusikon”. He also had an interest in faith-healing and the occult and was a companion of the confidence-trickster Cagliostro.