Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fresco, Oil, Acrylic...???

In "Good Copy, Bad Copy", the sampling artist Girl Talk laments the passing of the vinyl era, a time when records came packaged in masterfully-crafted covers with incredible art and photography, and normally came with extensive liner notes, giving the audience an inside look into the creative process behind the album in question.

My father, who was an avid vinyl collector in his youth, still has a considerable collection of beautiful vinyls in their original packaging from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Artists like the Allman Brothers Band, Cream and Led Zeppelin released vinyls with incredible music, but the packaging itself is special as well: original art by band members, visual artists who were in vogue at the time, photographs, notes, and song lyrics. During the glory days of vinyl, buying a new album was an event in itself: when a new album was released, one would invite friends over to pass around the liner notes for viewing while listening to the album together.

However, in retrospect vinyl has its drawbacks. It was an extremely fragile medium and the sound quality would suffer with even the slightest scratch or blemish on the LP's surface. Turntables were (and are) highly immobile, and often require expensive tuners/monitors as well as external speakers to play. Not only are they non-portable, they are expensive.

Fast-forward to the Digital Age. Crystal-clear, high-fidelity recordings are readily available at relatively cheap prices for immediate download onto digital devices. The iPod, a device no larger than a deck of cards, can hold hours, days or weeks worth of nonstop music, video and images. A laptop computer can hold months or years worth of data. However, the Digital Age has its drawbacks as well. Studies have shown that with the advent of the MP3 player, music has become an isolated, individual experience with little shared interaction with fellow listeners. Also, those who use headphones while using portable music devices instead of speakers sacrifice depth and richness of timbre for brilliance and volume.


Art is a cultural phenomenon that feeds upon change. Of course past aspects of any particular medium are all sacrificed given a long enough timeline, but new features replace them and become the standard upon which succeeding examples of the medium are based.

When painting supplanted bas-relief and sculpture as the medium of choice during the Dark Ages, fresco was the substance of choice for expression. Fresco involves mixing pigment with water then painting directly onto wet plaster. Naturally, when it was in vogue, fresco adorned the walls and ceilings of buildings and was the definitive medium of expression. However, fresco has its drawbacks. When fresh and new, fresco is bright, brilliand and capable of extraordinary detail. However, as the plaster ages it cracks and frays, and fresco suffers terribly with age. With the advent of oil paint, art lasted much longer. Oil, a very dense chemical, decays naturally at an extremely slow rate. When used properly it adds great depth and body to an image. However, oil darkens over time, which is one of the reasons why the Mona Lisa is so yellow: when it was first painted, the lady's skin was much closer to natural skin tone, but today it has the hue of parchment. Acrylic, a much newer type of paint, comes in a huge array of colors which do not easily fade. However, acrylic dries quickly, and is mostly used for quick processes: modernist painters like Liechtenstein, the comic book artist, used it to great effect for bold, stark, simple subjects which are lent a cartoon-like luridness.

Constant change like that found in painting can be mapped in sculpture, music, literature and other media. This same manner of thinking can also be applied to the concept of ownership. Five hundred years ago there was a very loose definition of the concept of ownership. Today, because of the internet, ownership is much more rigidly defined...and even more blatantly overlooked.

There will never be a definitive solution or an endgame to this change which occurs naturally. The universe is subject to constant entropy, and so is culture. Despite our attempts to create order out of disorder, entropy will always undo every establishment of order.

1 comment:

  1. Once upon a time there was a cartoon on a door in Read Center that said, "Entropy means never having to clean your room."

    That, and the paradoxes in Chris' post were what came to mind and spoke to me the most as I read. In the article "Gender Trouble," I was struck by the paradox Foucalt points out that "juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent," (p. 2), and with the idea that while "unity of 'women' is often invoked to construct a solidarity, a split is introduced between sex and gender" (p.8).

    I think Chris did a great job of introducing paradox and using one of his favorite concepts to illustrate it.


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