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Best wishes for a Merry Christmas! I am featuring my Christmas tree again, just in case anyone hasn’t seen it. Fortunately, I added a lot of new animals like an andrewsarchus, a basilosaurus, an arsinoitherium, and a priapulid worm. Of course my favorite animal, my little housecat Sepia is there too, at lower left, wondering why I am paying attention to a fake tree instead of playing with her. It seems like she might also be interested in a second dinner.
The year is wearing down fast and I am going to take a few days to paint and draw and relax, but there are a few more posts left for 2015 and then there will be a whole new thrilling year for blogging. Having you all as readers is the very best present possible. Let me know if you have any ideas or concerns. Happy holidays! I wish I could get everyone a miniature donkey, or a flying squid, or a walking catfish, but you will have to settle for more wacky eclectic content…and for my happiest and best wishes and warmest regards now and always.
Today Australian scientists announced the discovery of a very interesting exoplanet—a so-called “super-earth” which orbits around the red dwarf star Wolf 1061. The rocky planet (Wolf1061c) is actually only one of three worlds so far found in the solar system of Wolf 1061, but it is of particular note because it lies in an orbit which allows for liquid water to exist upon its surface.
Wolf 1061 is tidally locked to its star, so one side always faces the red ball in the heavens. It has a mass about 4.3 times that of Earth—so the surface gravity is nearly twice that of Earth. Its “years” are 18 Earth days long.
Perhaps most excitingly Wolf 1061c is “only” 14 light years away (about 84,000,000,000,000 miles). It is a neighbor! Perhaps we can use our best telescopes to assay the atmosphere and find out if anything resembling Earth life is there.
This place really exists! Spend a moment imaging what it is like on the surface. In my fantasy, one side of the world is a vast red desert while the other is a desolation of black glaciers…yet in a twilight ring between the sides there are sludgy water oceans filled with big green and violet pillows of fabulous squashed shapes—the analogs of stromatolites. Bubbles of gas pour up from these oddly shaped blobs of bacteria-like cells. Somewhere among the billions of little multiplying alien organisms, a few peptides have changed and the cells begin to exchange genetic material with one another. They are beginning to reproduce sexually instead of merely dividing. Life in the ring oceans of 1061c takes a leap forward. It is all imagination…and yet it may be so. The universe is vast. I wish we could find out more about this entire earthlike planet that we only just found.
Back in the day, my grandparents had a big drawer filled with skeleton keys that didn’t really seem to go to anything. It was deeply evocative yet ultimately frustrating—like a shelf full of novels in an unknown language or a secret passage in the back of a painting. Today’s post is like that as well. Here are beautiful keys to unknown locks. Larger context is missing.
This post is almost like a Flickr gallery. And yet the keys are very beautiful. Plus it has been forever since we featured a Gothic post (and I like to have a few Gothic posts during the holidays when night is ascendant). Ferrebeekeeper might be running out of Gothic posts. Maybe we have mined that seam dry or do any of you have any ideas? Is there another locked door somewhere that this key goes to?
Once again it is time to talk about contemporary color trends! I am of course talking about Pantone’s “Color of the Year” proclamation, a transparent (yet important) marketing event in which the great taste-makers announce the dominant color palette for next year’s clothes and consumer goods. Last year, Ferrebeekeeper was quick off the mark to comment on “Marsala” an attractive 1970’s chicken-liver color. The color for 2016 was announced only yesterday. Thanks to our sharp-eyed friend, Beatrix, for pointing out that the pronouncement had been made throughout the land! [Thanks also to Beatrix for noticing that my blue gray bird art is ahead of the fashion curve…at least in terms of color]
This year Pantone is taking two bites of the great pastel ice cream cone by announcing an unprecedented TWO colors: “Rose Quartz” and “Serenity” a pale grayish pink and a pale grayish blue. This pink/blue dichotomy seems deliberately gendered, and, despite Pantone’s strident assurances that such is not the case, one instantly intuits that Rose Quartz was too “feminine” and Serenity was too bland to escape from committee on their own.
Naturally, Pantone explains the choices differently. The Wall Street Journal reported on the spin coming from company:
“We wanted compassion, which today a lot of people are looking for,” [Leatrice] Eiseman says. Pantone’s news release describes the colors as “inducing feelings of stability, constancy, comfort and relaxation,” and argues that they “create balance in a chaotic world.”
Pantone also emphasized how ideal the colors are for wearable technology…although since that sort of equipment has not really made it off of the battlefield and on to main street, I have some doubts (unless the armed forces are changing their color palette too).
To my eye, the colors have some pizzazz–so long as they are next to each other. As a team they evoke the blue and pink combination which Western painters have long used for the Virgin Mary, but somewhat less vibrant and more conservative–like a Fra Angelica painting which has faded and needs a hand from professional art-restorers.
Pantone walks a fine line between choosing colors which are too bold and colors which are too dull. There is a quick test for this: would McCarthy throw you in prison for wearing a shirt that color? This year the answer is “probably not.” It is an ominous answer. Years with vibrant colors tend to be good years (economically speaking) whereas years with button-down 50s colors underperform…or worse! Indeed “Serenity” bares an ominous trace of 2008’s beautiful “Blue Iris.” However economists rightly note that the Pantone benchmark is not necessarily born out by broader financial metrics and, indeed, seems like something I made up right now on the spot so I would have something controversial and noteworthy to write about.
Only time will tell, but I for one am pulling all of my money out the markets…or I would if I had any money…Sadly I lost my “Blue Iris” shirt in 2008 and never got it back. If the “Color of the Year” is to be believed, 2015 was the froth and 2016 will be the harrowing.
The Precious Night Turkey (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Mixed Media)
Longtime readers know that one of my favorite animals is the turkey. I am not alone. We Americans have a whole month dedicated to devotions of the magnificent bird: the turkey is literally at the center of our third (or second?) most important festival. However there is a distinctly Aztec aspect to the turkey’s key role in the holiday. The fowl is not just a sacred animal of autumn—it is a sacred sacrifice of the dying year.
I love turkeys. I love their appearance. I love their personalities. I love their furtive mastery of the eastern woodlands. I…uh…I love their flavor. A lot. This strikes me as a noteworthy juxtaposition of its own: a troubling aspect not of turkeys, but of humankind. Our kindness is always streaked through with appetite. Our admiration is dark and terrible.
Anyway, I figured I had better make an artwork to capture some of these mixed feelings (and as a personal devotion to the consecrated bird). Here is a picture of Chalchiuhtotolin, the jeweled night turkey of the Aztecs. You can revisit the post here—the deity is a trickster, a sacrifice, a shapeshifter. I made it with paper cutouts, markers, colored pencils, and rhinestones—in the artistic style of an alimentary schoolchild, er, I mean an “elementary” schoolchild. I wanted it to be like a Faberge jeweled egg, glistening in the purple night, but perhaps I should have made it more Aztec instead of Rococo.
Ominously, as I was pasting it all together I accidentally tore off the head (you can see the seam of where I glued it back if you blow up the work). It was an artistic mistake—but it works perfectly to capture the true ritualistic nature of November’s spirit animal.
One day, Marsyas saw the radiant god Apollo playing his lyre (which, in Greco-Roman society, was the instrument of the aristocracy). Lord Apollo was clad in the costliest raiment and equipped with the finest gold trappings. He was inhumanly beautiful…dangerously beautiful. Marsyas was overwhelmed: he was a crude goat-man, and Apollo was the god of music (and sunshine, and medicine, and prophecy). At this juncture, Marsyas made a fateful choice–he decided to challenge glorious Apollo to a musical contest. The winner would be able to “do whatever he wanted” with the loser. Marsyas, a satyr (synonymous, in the classical world, with lust) thus imagined that he would “win” or “be won” no matter which way the the competition worked out.
Apollo grew oddly enflamed by the challenge and agreed readily–with one stipulation of his own. The muses, the goddesesses of art, would judge the event. Now the muses were daughters of Apollo, both figuratively and literally. To a disinterested observer the arrangement might smack dangerously of favoritism, but Marsyas was blinded by longing and besotted by hist art.
The two musicians set up beside a river and began to play. Apollo played a complicated piece about laws and lords and kings. It sparkled like sunshine. It grew oppressively magnificent like the great gods of high Olympus. It ended like glittering starlight in the cold heavens. Next Marsyas played and his music was completely different–it spoke to the longing of the weary herdsman coming home at sundown. It was about the mist rising from furrowed farmlands, about fruit trees budding in the orchard, and about the soft places where the meadows run out into the rivers.
The muses listened closely to the music and made their choice. “These pieces are played by opposite beings on dissimilar instruments. The works have completely different subjects, but both pieces are perfect. Neither is clearly “better” than the other.” Sublime music had won the contest!
But Apollo was not satisfied. There are two versions of the story: in one he turned his lyre upside down and played it as well as ever (Marsyas, of course, could not do the same with the aulos). In the other version, Apollo played the lyre and sang (also impossible with the aulos). “I have two arts, whereas Marsyas has only one!” he proclaimed. The muses halfheartedly assented: Apollo had officially won the contest.
This was the moment Marsyas had planned for. He was shaking with excitement as Apollo took hold of his unresisting form and shackled him to a tree. Then Apollo picked up a skinning knife and started flaying the saty’s skin off. Marsyas screamed and bleated in horror and pain, but Apollo kept cutting and peeling until he had removed the satyr’s entire hide. Then the lord of music sat and watched while Marsyas bled to death, before hanging up the horrible dripping pelt in the tree and departing. Vergil avers that the blood of Marsyas stained the river everlastingly red–indeed the waterway was thereafter named the Marsyas.
The artistic thing to do, would be to leave the story as it stands–to let readers mull the troubling tale on their own. However I have been thinking about it a great deal…Every artist thinks about it a great deal. Museums are filled with interpretations of the story by history’s greatest painters and sculptors. There was a version of Apollo and Marsyas painted on the ceiling of the Queen of France (in that version, the skinning is done by underlings as Apollo languidly points out how he wants things done). Since I have seen plenty of museum-goers blanch when looking at pictures of Marsyas and hastily turn away, I will provide some ready made meta-interpretations to start the conversation.
First, this story is a tale of masters and servants. The lyre is the instrument of the rich. It was expensive to own and required tutors to learn. The aulos was the instrument of shepherds, smallfolk, and slaves. The tale of exploitation is a very familiar one throughout all of history. It always goes one way: somebody gets fleeced.
Also this is self-evidently a tale of forbidden sexuality. It was immensely popular with Renaissance, Baroque, and Victorian artists from the west because of the opressive mores of society. By presenting this story as a classically varsnished picture, people could represent forbidden ideas about same-gender relationships which society would literally kill them for saying or acting upon. Indeed the story’s ghastly climax represents exactly that!
In a related vein, philosophers and writers interpret the story as “reason chastening lust.” The former is more powerful than the latter: ultimately the mind subjugates the passions. Perhaps this is why the picture was above the queen’s bed–maybe the king commanded that it be painted there. Yet the reason of Apollo does not strike me as at all reasonable. If this is what rationality accomplishes, then reason is monstrous (and it often seems so in the affairs of men). I wish I could sit with Jeremy Bentham and talk about this. Utility and pragmatism oft seem as ruthless as cruel Apollo.
It is also a tale of artists and their audiences (and their art). Marsyas does not clearly lose the contest. His music is as beautiful as that of Apollo–maybe better. However the game was rigged from the start. Art is a mountain with infinite facets but the sun of fashion only shines on a few at a time. The greatest artists are not necessarily appreciated or loved. I can’t imagine a single artist who painted this story imagined themselves as Apollo. Unless you have personally rigged the game with money and power, it will not benefit you. You must prepare for operatic destruction at the hands of the world. It is a terrible part of art. The world’s inability to discern true worth is one of life’s most disappointing aspects.
Above all, it is a story of gods and mortals. For daring to step on the field with the divine, mortality is punished with the ultimate penalty–mortality. I don’t believe in gods or divinity (people who literally believe in such things strike me as dangerous lunatics). Divinity is a myth–but an important one which informs us concerning humankind’s ultimate purpose and methods. We have strayed into vasty realms. I’ll come back to this theme later but for now let’s say that the defeat of Marsyas reveals something. Would you prefer if he just gave up and groveled before Apollo? No, there would be no story, no striving, no art. There is a divine seed within his failure–a spark of the celestial fire which animates (or should animate) our lives.
Anyway, for putting up with this rather horrible week I have a Halloween treat for you tomorrow. Remember, I am not just a moral and aesthetic philosopher but a troubled toymaker (and a lost artist) as well. Happy Halloween!
Longtime readers will remember that Ferrebeekeeper has a great fondness for the magnificent art and pottery of the Moche, a civilization noted for sophisticated agriculture, ultra-violence, and, um, magnificent art and pottery. The Moche lived in the rich coastal lands of what is now northern Peru. In the past we have written about their art of sea monsters and human sacrifice, and of waterfowl. Today we look at Moche bat-themed art.
Bats were beloved subjects of much pre-Colombian art (I owe everyone a post about the bat in Aztec art and myth). Although they were great artists, the Moche were scary people who were always sacrificing and garroting and flaying (more about that next week) and excarnating and hanging corpses everywhere. Yeesh… Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bats of Moche art are scary creatures with grimacing monster teeth and near-human expressions of malice and grief.
Sadly we don’t know precisely what place the bat held in Moche mythology. In fact we don’t know anything about Moche mythology except what we can intuit visually. However there are lots of bats to visually interpret and it seems like a safe bet that they had a chthonic underworld meaning (as they do in Western art and culture). These bats are demons and monsters born of the dark night-side of the human spirit.
All of these grimacing fanged bats with bared claws and anguished eyes make me think of the Moche people themselves—caught up in their centuries-long game of bloody worship and savage status. I wish I could help them, or even understand them, but they are gone. All we have are their skeletons and their beautiful dark art.
Ok, I apologize for this week. A friend of mine generously agreed to teach me 3D computer assisted design on Thursday, and I had a cold last night and just fell asleep after work–so there were only a measly 3 posts this week! To make up for it, I will put up this week’s sketches tomorrow in a special Sunday post—so tune in then (and bring all of your friends and loved ones too!) but first, here is a rare Saturday post–a weird jeremiad about guilds.
“Guilds” you are saying,” didn’t those die off in the middle ages? We live in a glistening modern world of opportunities now!” Actually, guilds didn’t die at all—they have morphed and proliferated in ways both beneficial and detrimental to society. We should think seriously about this and ask whether the ambiguous benefits of guild outweigh their unfair anti-competitive nature.
First let’s quickly go back to the Middle Ages when there were two competing ways of learning professional trades. You could go to a guild, where weird old men made you do sit on a bench and do menial tasks for twenty years while you competed in pointless status games with your cruel peers (and underwent fearsome hazing). Assuming you survived all of this, you became part of the guild, and participated in its quasi-monopoly on trading fish with the Baltic, making oakum ropes, scrivening, alchemy, accounting, or whatever. Savvy readers will see the roots of the AMA, the Bar Association, and even our great universities and trade schools (and maybe our secondary schools) in this model.
The other way was the master/apprentice system. This is now most familiar to us through wizards, kung fu warriors, artists, Jedi, and other fictional characters—which is to say it has not proliferated in the modern world. A wise master would take a favorite student under his/her wing and teach them the ropes. This system had the advantage of being better and faster than the guild system—it can truly foster rare genius– but it had all of the Jesus/Peter, Jedi/Sith, father/son problems familiar to us through fiction. Namely the master frequently held on too long, became evil, started giving sermons in the wilderness, or otherwise went bad: or the apprentice decided they did not want to wait but were ready to paint naked ladies instead of mixing paint…or to enchant brooms or to fight the howling serpent gang.
During the nineteenth century, law and medicine were learned like gunsmithing, coopering, and hat-making: through apprentices. It worked fine for law but not for medicine (although I am not sure 19th century medicine was worthwhile anyway). Today we have universities and professional schools controlling all the ways upward in society (provided you have adequate money and have passed through endless mandarin-style standardized tests). It is making society sclerotic. Anybody who has spent time in a contemporary office will instantly recognize the parochial narrow-minded professional mindset encountered at every turn. We have a society made up of narrowly educated reactionaries monopolizing each profession. Time to open things up a bit with a different model. The apprentice system worked well in the past. Let’s try it again (and get rid of these smug gate-keeping professional schools in the process).
Frankly I suspect that Doctors alone should have guilds. It is the only discipline important enough and complicated enough to warrant the stranglehold protectionism of a professional association. The great medical associations make use of master/apprentice-style relationships later on in a doctor’s training anyway, and they have proven themselves responsible guardians of their sacred trust in numerous other ways. Lawyers, florists, morticians, artists, clowns, accountants, underwater welders, actuaries and other dodgy modern professionals should compete through the open market. If you want to be a businessman find a businessman and train with him until you know enough to defeat him in open business combat. If you want to be a florist or a computer programmer, find a master florist or a master programmer. Disciplines like geology and engineering could keep pseudoscientists and frauds out of their ranks with continuing brutal tests.
Of course it is possible that this whole post is merely an angry reaction to troubles in my own extremely subjective profession, art. Contemporary art schools are thoroughly worthless in every way. Back during the 50s and 60s, a bunch of doofy political theorists took over and hijacked art (which has many unpleasant similarities to political theory…but which is not political theory). Art has been a meaningless game of celebrity and identity-politics ever since. It is sadly devoid of the master craftsman aspect which once made it great. I didn’t learn art at a famous art school. I learned from a great master painter…who went a bit bonkers and moved off to China to practice veganism and sit on a mountain. That is the way things should be! This business of going to Yale or RISDI needs to be thrown on history’s scrapheap.