Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Press for Shane Hope, the Limits of jpegs, and a Gallery Book Signing

Because of its technological subject matter, our current exhibition by Shane Hope has led to a really interesting intersection of art-world-meets-high-tech-world among the visitors to the show. What each world gravitates to in the work has been so illuminating, and finally I'm beginning to see enough patterns to guess, by what someone new focuses on, which world they inhabit. This meeting at the cross roads has also led to an interesting mix of places Shane's show is being discussed, including the following:
And we understand the blend of press sources will continue (more on that as it comes out).

Dealers say this all the time these days, I know, but the work in Shane's show is so incredibly detailed (seriously, he worked with one of New York's most technically advanced printers and together they pushed the equipment to a place it had never gone before...these prints are intense), that there the poor jpegs on our website really can't even remotely do them justice. I was discussing this with a curator yesterday who agreed that galleries are increasingly complaining about this. I'm not sure what the answer might be (incredibly large images on websites?), but I'm open to suggestions.

If you missed Shane's opening, or if your schedule won't permit you to stop in during regular gallery hours, you still have another chance to check out this show. Bambino and I are hosting a Book Signing Party in the gallery, next Thursday, July 30, from 6-8 PM. We'll have a few dozen copies for sale, or if you already have one from some other channel, by all means, please bring it. Hope to see you there!!!

Image at top:
Shane Hope, cartoon_trace_atoms=1 (detail), 2009, archival pigment print, 60" X 48" (private collection).

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions, how to start and run a commercial art gallery


Anonymous Gam said...

quick post:

An example of megapixel images via Google Earth

From the Museo Nacional Del Prado

You need Googel Earth installed but it is an example of Ultraresolution. You can easily embed Google Earth into a website now, and then you can restrict the access to the website to your clients to minimize who may actually make a duplicate of the image.

Hence the image may be "restricted" to the public, but accessable to those whom you trust.

You can even place the image into a 3D virtual model of your gallery, and have that with a tour in the embedded Google Earth on your restricted site.

7/22/2009 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

The traditional way to show the detail in a large work is to show a detail, i.e., a magnification of a very small section. That's usually enough to get the idea across, and whet appetites for more (sales). If the work is extraordinarily complex, more than one section can be shown.

I've often wished art books would do more of this, especially to show brushwork and other texture with side lighting.

7/22/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

There's something even more to see in Shane's work that I'm not sure how to do with details even. We've taken a strong magnifying glass in the gallery up to them and you just continue to see more detail...they never break never see them begin to pixelate, and the more you look the more you realize that what looks like one object to the naked eye is actually comprised of a universe of smaller objects...I'm not sure detail shots are enough, because the motion around the piece is part of the experience, although I am intrigued by Gam's idea. Got to talk with our website host and see what's feasible there.

7/22/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

check out for continuous zooming

It is a megapixel viewer you can embed in your website

Never used it but a colleague of mine has. his site is:

7/22/2009 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

actually some more appropriate users of Zoomify (again I have never used this)

7/22/2009 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

This is way more complicated than it seems. I'm guessing from what I saw, but I think Shane's prints were made on an Iris printer, or something similar which has a variable dot size. At a resolutions over 600 points per inch, they are for all intents and purposes continuous tone prints (assuming the artwork file size is big enough and I'd guess they are about 300 ppi which is around a 500 megabyte file using 8 bit color)

Then there is the problem taking a photograph, or making a scan of the artwork. It's possible to resolve the detail but it is a complex process. Making the photo is the key part because there is software which allows one to zoom in, and in, and into a photo (maybe it's the Google process, but I saw a web example, maybe it was the Obama inauguration ceremony.

Then you have the monitors, which currently are somewhere between 100 and 160 ppi which is close to what the eye can resolve at a 1/2 meter or so. All of the above are subject to the vagaries of the color gamuts of the input and output devices.

This is why artworks need to be seen in person. There's that and there's good documentation, they will never be the same. I'd just put in a couple of good close-ups and let it go at that.

7/22/2009 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Ed, I downloaded the image on your gallery home page and looked at it through Microsoft Paint. It is a 500x400 pixel file saved at 72 dots or pixels per inch (equivalent in screen inches to about 7x5.5"), and at 190KB the file size is very small. Website designers often like to keep file sizes small for faster loading into a browser, and for proper positioning on the web page.

By contrast the original is 60x48", meaning that for every .6 inches of actual space, your image has downsized the original to 5 pixels.

A good digital camera can capture far more detailed resolution. If a picture taken at the highest resolution is too large for the website, why not make it available for downloading to the user's PC?

As for the image shown here on the blog, that is a 157K file saved at 96 DPI, or 6x6" screen inches, and already is somewhat more clear and detailed than the image on your home page. But far higher resolutions can be captured and displayed digitally.

7/22/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

SO you want a corvette but you can only post a jpg of it on the internet?

I'm wondering how much of the argument against web presentations here is from people who are worried about the economic leveling of jpgs vs the prohibitively expensive transparency or formal gallery space.

I got a request today for a cell phone picture update of a painting - I guess some qualities translate to any medium. Too bad I havent touched the painting in a while. Maybe I should use photoshop to fake it till I make it.

But wow, it sure is easier to sell your own work nowadays!

7/22/2009 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The math
60 inches wide orig. / 600 pixels digital width

60 in / 600 px = 0.10 in per pixel
each pixel averages the image data in square 1/10" x 1/10"

600 px wide = 10 px/in - 0.852 Mb tif file
1200 px wide = 20 px/in - 3.408 Mb file
1800 px wide = 30 px/in - 13.63 Mb file

Saving the file as jpeg reduces the file size (3.4 mb to 844k at PS quality 50) but introduces wavelet artifacts which are counterproductive if you want to show detail.

Some museum websites are using a javascript zooming viewer which lets the viewer zoom in and move around to look at details. (So does Macy's) It might be effective with Shanes works but I find it tedious and would rather just have a 1200 px wide image where I could see the whole thing, even if I miss some of the details.

7/22/2009 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

"60 inches wide orig. / 600 pixels digital width"

For clarification if needed, I was referring to the image on EW's home page, which is 500 pixels wide.

"Saving the file as jpeg reduces the file size (3.4 mb to 844k at PS quality 50) but introduces wavelet artifacts which are counterproductive if you want to show detail."

Agreed, I have seen this when saving .BMPS as .JPGs. Still, 3.4Mb would be a very fast download.

7/22/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++This is why artworks need to be ++seen in person.

Wait a second, George.

I'm presuming this is computer work, not done by hand? So what is the artwork: the computer file or the print?

If I send you a copy of the computer file (let's say in 150 years from now, when copyrights for the artists are over), have I sent you the work? Or do you have to print your own?

Is the art in the visual effects of the print or in its program?

Cedric Casp

7/22/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Digital prints are created (i.e., decisions are made in their creation) NOT for viewing on the computer but for viewing on certain types of paper in certain types of presentations with certain types of glazing or laminates, etc. etc. So, yes, Cedric, the work is the print.

You have not sent "the work," even if you send the full file the printer works from.

7/22/2009 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous david carson said...

It would be interesting to see Shane's images in an HD video shot like the Eames brothers "Powers of 10". You could release as a blu-ray dvd and make each video chapter a subsection of the image.

Would be very simple to produce. Adding some narration from Shane would be wonderful too.

You could also post each chapter of the HD video in a 1080p Quicktime file on the site (will be large, but i would download)

the dvd might make for an interesting way to edition the work as well.

7/22/2009 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Larry, I knew your example was 500px, I used 600 because ran some calculations in Excel to see how fast the file sizes grew. They grow exponentially 1x1=1 but double it to 2x2 = 4x the area etc. and the corresponding file sizes grow at the same rate. I also ran some compression tests in Photoshop using a noisy file vs one with flat color areas. High detail files like Shane's don't compress (jpeg) very well.

For photos, jpeg is the best compression that works on the web. Sometimes you can get away with using a lower quality compression on a bigger file and end up with about the same amount of information, at about the same file size, but with a bigger on-screen picture. I ran tests on this awhile back, but as I recall it's so file dependent there is no way to say what will work. With Shanes files, bigger would be better and higher quality compression would be better.

If you have Photoshop (or Paint or equiv.) you should archive the originals and the save out your camera documentation files as TIFF (using LZW compression) or Photoshop format (.psd) before altering them.

Re-saving jpeg files adds another layer of noise each time you save them out -- this typically is visible near the edges of objects in the image, and shows up as pixels that are slightly noisy in color or tone.

7/22/2009 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, congratulations on your book! I can't find it on Amazon. How can those of us on the left coast get a copy?

7/22/2009 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


You have several misconceptions about what an artwork is and what documentation is.

First off with Shane's images, there is NO WAY to view them at full size on any digital imaging device known to man today. It requires a 60x48 imaging device capable of displaying at least 300 points/in.

Second, any display device will produce an image that uses emitted light, you're staring at a bunch of little lightbulbs. This visual experience is considerably different from looking at an image in reflected light. Furthermore the color gamuts (range of displayable colors) are considerably different at the extremes between the two devices. There is NO reflective paint, ink, pigment which can match the color "cyan" = RGB 0,255,255 on a display device.

Third, you lose the kinesthetic relationship with the artwork, your just staring at a screen. Zooming in on an on-screen image is not the same visual experience as moving closer to the physical object. You lose the image in your peripheral vision and alter its scale by zooming in.

This is a problem we have today, people see a jpeg and think they have experienced the artwork, not so. For example, last December the Stellan Holm Gallery (NYC) had a painting by Dan Colon which is impossible to reproduce on a computer screen. Yes you can get the idea, it was one of the 'birdshit' paintings, and what you can know from the documentation is what it's design looked like (basically black and white all over, but more white). So you see the jpeg and think you "know" the painting, NOT! The painting is an optical experience which is kinesthetic and very disorienting.

Stuff on the computer screen, is just stuff on the computer screen, you might think it's sex, but no one is going to get pregnant.

7/22/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

George, your comment to Cedric reminds me, in a way, of what David Lynch said about watching movies on your phone:

7/22/2009 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I can't find it on Amazon.

Try this link. And thanks!!!

7/22/2009 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Cool, I just added it to my wishlist. Will read it after the new Pynchon. Looking forward to it. Thanks!

7/22/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Will read it after the new Pynchon.

Oh great, now we need a new word for anticlimactic. :-)

7/22/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Ha, not at all! I expect yours will have some very useful information. TP is more like James Joyce on acid :-)

7/22/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

from looking at what i have seen of the work, and not trying to respond to the comments here necessarily, i should say that the discussion is more about needing a 3d way to see a 2d image. and this is the difference really in seeing a jpeg and a painting in the flesh.

7/22/2009 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++You have several misconceptions +++about what an artwork is and +++what documentation is.

George, when did I ever talk about documentation? You didn't get my point at all !!

You said "you need to be in front of the work" (for the work to get its full worth).

I asked: But...What IS the work?

The print? Or the computer design that permitted the print? The computer file I am talking about is not documentation. I am saying it IS the work. The same way the art of Sol Lewitt is in the "program" that permits it, not in the final result.

You may not be able to grasp the work until it is printed, that is why I use question marks, but I was suggesting that if the work is first and foremost a computer design (BEFORE it is printed), than maybe the real work is the original file that permits the Iris Print (which could be eternally reproduceable).

The work may as well be an hybrid computer art/non-computer,
if so many enhancements occur on other machines (the printer lazer
or whatever) than the computer design itself, but please understand my argument.

In the case of Lynch, it is about bad technological translation.
The original file of his Digital film doesn't fit on an Iphone, or
not at the moment. When it WILL fit (in 50 years or so), the question will ressemble the same as differentiating the quality of watching a film at the last row or the front row of a cinema. Because let's figure an Iphone with nearly perfect pixels and you are wearing great quality headphones, and your
eyes are about 2 centimeters off the screen?

It's not because viewing artefacts are not on par with the other
levels of technology, that it makes the technological art any
less technological.

Cedric Casp

7/22/2009 08:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspes said...

Let's claim that Andrea Gursky is only kidding himself with his gigantic prints, and that in 50 years from now, I can take a copy (an exact copy) of his original
digital photo file, project it through my Iphone on a white wall, and get the exact same results as he does now with his large costly prints (considering I have a large white wall available and that the quality of projection devices and the minituarization of backup drives have strongly evolved).

Then what IS the work? Gursky might as well destroy all his digital files so that his art
remain the prints that they are right now. But once you are dealing with new tehnologies,
most artists haven't yet grasped what this technology is doing and what it is about.

Cedric Caspesyan

7/22/2009 08:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Experience "David Lynch"'s reaction to Iphone here:


Cedric Casp

7/22/2009 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I understood what you meant and what you have said in this vein before and I disagree with your conclusions.

A computer is a tool, not a medium. What becomes art through the use of the computer, occurs in the output device which may be on screen, printed, sculpted etc. I am familiar with the computer work flow with images having spent thousands of hours developing, debugging and testing imaging software. I really do understand the process and there is no such thing as "computer art." there are artists who use the computer as a tool to make art. This includes self-running programs which use the computer to create images automatically. I have done this myself, the artist does the programming, and the computer does the work -- it makes no aesthetic judgments without them being programmed in.

So, that said, the artist does something using the computer and as a project he has to decide what he wants the viewer to see. If he decides the viewer should see it on a display device like a LCD screen, then he has to make decisions about that presentation. But, if he decides to make a hardcopy output like a print, then the artist must make additional creative decisions because, as mentioned before, what's on screen won't print the way it looks.

Whatever output devices will be in 50 years, we don't have them now, nor can we even imagine what they will be. One can push the present technology to its limits and in a few years it will look crude, this is the weakness of using technology as the only calling card for an artwork.

Finally, I think it is a serious error to misunderstand the kinesthetic aspects of visual experience. You can see a Pollock on a monitor and think you know something about the painting.

But what you cannot experience is the the empathetic association with the artist making the mark. Nobody talks about this except the cognitive scientists. Their is a neural connection between what the eye sees, and the bodies motor responses. If you see someone reach out for a piece of food, the sympathetic response in your body mimics this move but suppresses the actual muscle movement -- but brain scans will show the movement signals are there just not followed through on.

The implications of this suggest that when we look at a painting in person, we not only see it but perform a mental trace of its appearance. In essence we make a connection with the painter while viewing it. Seeing it reduced in scale in a documentary representation, a jpeg or print, we do not have the same kinesthetic creation experience, we have something else but it's not the same.

Technological art is only good if it says something about the human condition using the available technological tools. Otherwise it is nothing more than a gimmick. It is also more likely that the best technological art is being made inside corporations, they have the tools and equipment. I would also include the universities, MIT has an interesting program.

7/22/2009 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Regarding Gursky, what's the point? That his prints are too expensive? Or that you can think of another way to display them?

I have no doubt that display technology will improve a lot in the next fifty years, but how much? I got my first Mac with a color screen in 1987, it was cool and I wrote all these image generating programs for it. Trouble was there was no way to print them out them, painting them didn't work so I moved on. It was a 14 inch screen with 72 ppi resolution. Today, 20 years later we have bigger screens and resolutions pushing towards 200 ppi. Overall the size increase isn't all that great and I dont think it is going to get that much better in the next 50 years.

You want to impress me with technology? Invent a cheap way to purify or desalinate water for the third world. Invent a low cost device for generating electricity. Cure Aids. OR Inspire others to do these things.

Or go to and buy a $200 computer for some klid in the third world, that's technology for you.

7/22/2009 10:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

George, by bringing in Pollock you are still pushing my argument towards documentation.

So, for you, a Sol Lewitt wall drawing is not art until it is actually drawn on the wall? This takes aback some of the ideas behind conceptualization, but nevertheless, my point about Gursky is that his art is first and foremost the digital snapshot he takes at high pixellization levels, added to the fact that it
is presented in large scale. It is not a work like, for example, Geneviève Cadieux for whom the
photographic pigment is essential to her work (as she juxtaposes notions of body skin and photosynthesis). The only thing you need to "get" a Gursky is large scale, good pixellisation,
and good color. Therefore the work could exist in a virtual format. Conceptually, the qualities inherent to the work are functions of the file that permitted it. You "can't see" those pixels but
they already exist, before they are printed.The print is only the broadcast.

If I hold a roll of a 35mm film that I shot, I could broadcast it, which is when I project the work on screen, where you can experience the art, but then you also have the roll of film itself, which is the medium. If I give you my roll of 35mm film, I have no more film. You are holding my film. It IS the work of art. You can call it a mere tool but to me it's "hey, you've got my film, give it back to me".

The projection is only the broadcast. In a similar ways, a painting is both an object and the broadcast of an image (a vision, or whatever, pure color).

To me, a digital file originating a project of art IS the work of art, unless digitalization was used to transfer something that existed elsewhere (in another medium, but sometimes this transfer is the topic of the artwork), or unless something is altered on transformed from digitalization back to concrete reality to such a degree that the result is significantly different from the original digital medium.

Or maybe the print and the digital file are two very different works, because they don't use the same language, but if a print transcribe on paper the "cool things" that some technology can achieve in the digital format, I wonder how much of a print is simply pointing to another marvel than itself, pointing toward a technological momentum where artistry have occured, and therefore the print would be only the documentation of that artistic momentum, while the digital file would be the real work of art.

Cedric Caspesyan

(PS: important to this issue is the question of wrether at the printing level you are trying to "improve" the digital file with printing techniques, or simply trying to be as fateful to the digital as possible.)

Cedric Caspesyan

7/22/2009 11:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I recall the quote something like that "there is no art, only artists".

As much as I do concur that the artistic experience from a "painting" is seemingly more profound then that of a ".jpg" I feel the need to point out the corollary .. a jpg is not a painting and a painting is not a jpg

the difference at this juncture is important. When I work digitally, I leap from plan view to side view to perspective to micro to macro to xray to non-textured to wireframe to exploded to rotated x degrees to the left to lat/longs to feet to metric to vertex level to topography details ...
in other words, it is the norm for me to move between paradigms of knowing at whatever level of detail I wish or require. The way we know the digital world is through metadata, associated attributes of the item in question, leaping from one way of knowing to another.

If you take a picture, you can geotag it, know the camera body reference number and make, know who copyrighted it, know the lens type, the aperture setting, the ISO value, even know the facial recogontion of the people in the image and from there their hyperlinks to their "profiles" and from there their spending habits and on and on. All from simply snapping the picture This electronic world of McLuhan's is distinct from the way we have known the world in that we have immediate access to all these attributes and points of view. We no longer have to change our viewpoint, we have concurrent levels of details, orientation and metadata of the object. Way beyond cubism.

It is this digital accessibility to our degree of interest of tagged attributes that makes a painting not a jpeg. Will this mean we lose our capacity of discovery ? - tagged attributes are "attached" to the object by AI or someone as it were, while discovering a painting is often more a revealing of layers of meaning within ourselves. Maybe Shane is exploring this new social paradigm of layers of attribute detail within the traditional "art" artifact.

-Whatever, it is simply to realize that the corollary exists to a jpg is not a painting and as such this other media (artists may be translating it into other media to better understand it- but it is a media) - this new media on the block has opportunities that painting may not encompass.

Not all .jpgs aspire to be paintings.

7/23/2009 06:38:00 AM  
Blogger George said...


You're all over the map here, so lets see if we can sort this out.

Essentially you are posing an ontological question about where the art resides. Prior to Duchamp this wouldn't be necessary but in todays artworld it can be a valid question.

First, what is the intention of the artist? This is of paramount importance because the artist creates the artwork and unless he transfers the process to someone else as part of the artwork, then the artists decides where the art resides.

So how about Lewitt? Or Keith Tyson? When I was a art student I was a volunteer, making one of his wall drawings at the Dwan Gallery in LA. Clearly it was Lewitt's intention that the "art" for one of his wall drawings was in his set of instructions about how they were to be made.

However, while the "art" may reside in the instruction set, it lies latent until it is actually executed. In other words, we may have Lewitt's instructions for making the wall drawing BUT until it is actually executed, it does not exist. We cannot dismiss the fact that implicit in Sol Lewitt's instruction there is the command to "DRAW." Lewitt was not saying "imagine this drawing," he was saying "make this drawing, like this."

I don't know enough about Cadieux's work to comment fairly.

Suppose we apply the same analysis to Gursky (who I don't consider to be even in the same league with Lewitt.) You posit that after whatever post-processing he does (it's selection, scanning, color-correcting, etc,) all the required information lies in Gursky's image file and therefore the image file is the "art."

This raises a question which plagues photography and other forms of multiples (castings, etchings, woodblock prints etc), are posthumous prints valid? The answer to this question is going to depend on whether or not the artist engages in any post-processing activity with the file, negative, cast etc. In other words if a photographer makes his own prints, or patinas the sculpture, then the art isn't "finished" until that's done.

So at this point it becomes an interesting question. How do we distinguish between virtual and latent?

First I think we have to respect the intent of the artist. In Lewitt's (or Tyson) case the artwork is clearly more conceptual and most interestingly it requires execution to exist, the execution is part of the work. So I'm saying that until drawn, a set of Lewitt's drawing instructions are only latent art, a script which may have some intrest in itself but which is different from the executed work.

With artists like Gursky (or Hosukai,) the question is different because it is less clear that the artists are acting conceptually. In other words, is Gursky just manufacturing a line of images, in various sizes small, medium, and large? This would imply that the instruction set lies in the digital file and that "no other activity" is required by the artist other than signing the final print. In this case I might be willing to go along with the idea that the art resides "latent" in the digital file. However, someone else other than the artist cannot re-purpose the art, making it virtual to display on an iPod as an example.

Regardless of what you or I think of the artist's work, we cannot fairly alter their original intentions about how the artwork comes into being. This is not to say that an artist may declare that this artwork can "exist" on an iPod, or as a projection or as a print. But this is only true if the artist makes this declaration.

7/23/2009 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Gam, I have nothing against jpegs (digital images.) What I am saying that as a reproduction of a painting they provide only certain information about the painting and that this shouldn't be confused with the actual physical experience.

Once one starts working with digital images as the source state, then all the things you say are true, the created information is in the digital file and may be output in various ways.

7/23/2009 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I have a different question which relates to Shane's work and which is applicable to other artists as well.

Why is it that we are fascinated by "detail?"

I've noticed how viewers at Moma crowd around and scrutinize the Dali, and Wyeth paintings. This also applies to Gursky and Hope as well.

Just what is it? It's not like we cannot examine "detain" in our daily life, it's all around us, all the time.

FWIW, I'm suspicious of art which relies on detail for its attraction but curious about why it is such a magnet.

7/23/2009 08:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

George, maybe the fascination with detail is culturally defined? In English we make up our minds, we make a decision. We construct and make things out of parts, creating meaning layer upon layer?

Maybe we tend to see the bits and pieces as keys to the greater whole rather then the accepting the bigger picture right away?

Maybe we think it is just hidden knowledge that only we have discovered and so gain some kind of advantage?
But yeah, you are right many people are fascinated with detail - isn't there a saying the quality or something or other is in the details? Seems to be a cultural mindset.

7/23/2009 09:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Certainly there are works of art that are best seen at a distance, as too much "detail" prevents the eye from recognizing larger patterns. This could be said of Chuck Close's photorealistic portraits, as well as much work by the Impressionists.

On the other hand, there is work in which viewing the details as closely as possible only enhances the experience, such as Indian and Persian miniatures.

Just my $.02.

7/23/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Gam, I don't really know.

Twenty years ago I got my Mac and spent a year writing fractal and cellular automata programs. With the fractals it was interesting to see how deep you could keep going into the image, the detail just kept coming limited only by the 16 bit number representation.

I wonder if maybe it [detail] doesn't elicit some particular psychological response. Does this endless penetration defeat death? (stuff just keeps going on forever?) Or maybe the viewer reads out the attention to detail of the artist? This is somewhat contradicted by high resolution cameras which don't require any work by the artist.

Take Gursky, most of the time we just see a reproduction of the Gursky, we don't even see the details, so the photo is a documentary artifact of some place or event. When you actually see the actual photograph, you get that and all the detail fascination as well. It's a different experience, why?

7/23/2009 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Larry, good points but it still doesn't get to the why?

If you start thinking about 'detail' like we might be doing just now, what happens? All of a sudden the backpack on the table assumes amazing detail, when before it was just a backpack (this is kind of what you said in the first paragraph)

Still, somewhere in here there must be a psychological reason?

7/23/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

I think that we tend to "gloss over" the details as we go about our daily lives, otherwise we'd get so distracted and overwhelmed that we'd be practically immobilized. What artists, and therefore artworks do, is say "hey, stop for a moment and look at this, really look at it". The artist's role in society (IMHO) is to be the selector of what should be examined.

7/23/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

I meant to say selector and/or maker in my last comment.

7/23/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

Great point about the obsession with details. In manufacturing a stripped out product is more efficient. No detail=mass production maybe?

I know in photography 8x10 neg's trump any digital camera. However I still use digital because of it's relevance to contemporary society. ( and because I like it's immediacy )

Also, I like to be able to see how an image is constructed when I get really close to it. Let's face it art is illusion and to see brush strokes and pixels speaks as much to art as the subject chosen

7/23/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Ced said...

Classicism barfed on the excessive details of Baroque and Rococo the same way Colourfield and Allover barfed on Abex.

Sometimes details get on the nerves. I'd say it's case by case, really.

Cedric Casp

7/23/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Larry, good points but it still doesn't get to the why?

George, I don't pretend to have all the answers (or even any of them), but I was reminded just now of a statement by the Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (from memory): "Every piece of music [or presumably other arts] is either a narrative or a piece of jewelry." That is, the Mahler 2nd vs. a Chopin prelude, Moby Dick vs. a poem by Dickinson, The Last Judgment vs. a Cellini salt cellar. The idea seems to look back on the 18th-century distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, in which the "beautiful" evokes feelings of delicacy, intricacy, charm, and the "sublime" evokes feelings of awe, fear, solemnity. I'm no expert on 18th-century aesthetics, but I think the distinction has some validity, and may relate to the "psychological reasons" you speak of.

7/23/2009 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I didn't want to go into this (I'm no science expert), but let me try:

I think it has to do with the cognitive process. Something Kantian as such. The mind always needs to focus on an object it desires (a thought, a perception).
Your mind seeks all the time sensual codes or signals it desires or that informs it (a visual code can be a street signal, for example (codes aren't just visual)). When faced with visual details, the mind is titillated because it has a hard time to figure what it should be focussing on. So the process of seeking the..what is it..
the conota? the object with potential of triggering the cognitive process, that would
be what attracts people to details.
I mean, the mind loves seeking for information.

But as soon as the mind recognizes or accepts the information, it can immediately reject it if the minds receives it as superfluous. Detail is not a warrant in triggering interest or knowledge. I think, in fact, that when the mind is used to be deceived by superfluous details, for example the rococo era, then in that context the message that knowledge sends to your cognitive process is "stop looking at details, you are
wasting your time". So that would explain how you get generations fascinated by details and others interested by order and simplicity.

Knowlege is formed by this constant play of the mind filtering what it accepts and what it rejects, so it will strongly shift depending on the environment a person is brought in.

I think there is a Pavlov dog in each and everyone of us, and
that the cure for Pavlovian conditioning is knowledge.


Cedric Caspesyan

7/24/2009 12:54:00 AM  
Anonymous George said...


While I think there probably is a psychological reason for our fascination with detail I don't have an explanation that I could make a case for.

Your raising the point about art being a narrative or a piece of jewelry is very good. It's closer to the point of my own musings recently. While we may think we impose these structures on our own creative efforts, my hunch is that the reverse is actually happening, that these structures are intimately connected with how we perceive the world. I thought maybe detail was somewhat like this as well, but I'm not sure at this point. It was just a thought.

{NOTE: This comment was re-posted for George by Ed, who accidentally deleted it in trying to publish it from his cell phone}

7/24/2009 07:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Maybe the fascination for detail also includes Gombrich's "scanning for meaning". That once we recognize something as its category norm, then we seek out the features that distinguish it from its norm so that we can allow our brain - a predictive organ- to determine what to expect next.

You walk down the street, and recognize your friend from the multitude of other humans- maybe by their gait, or by their clothes, or by their hair, or by their voice - by those features or details, which distinguish them from the norm of a human. Then as your friend turns towards you, you see they have tears - sad or happy? More details are needed to determine this distinction from the norm of your friend’s emotional state. Are they smiling, are they frowning, are they smelling freshly chopped Spanish onions? The details give us indicators to what we might reasonably expect a given situation to encompass. We start with the norm of something and then seek out indicators that show its present "state" and not its normative state.

Maybe the details are simply our building blocks to determine the relative distance from the norm of something, so that we can interpret and better predict what we are to deal with? Is this something different from its norm and if so what may that indicate about what its predictive future may be? So we know what ours might be in reaction to this future. Maybe we simply do this so much we don't realize that we have a survival rational for doing such.

7/24/2009 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Gam, that's a really good analysis. It's like a perceptual avalanche of information which allows us to finely categorize something. The example you gave, recognizing a friend by their gait, etc, is spot on and more importantly it brings in the observers empathetic response which is very important.

There has been a lot of recent research in the areas of perceptual psychology and neurology which are very interesting and would lend support for the suppositions above.

Sometimes detail seems to have a logical place within an artwork, like we see in persian miniatures. I also think some art runs amok with 'detail' where it may exceed what is necessary (obviously a value judgment on my part) making it become nothing more than a behavioral hook.

I think what is more interesting is the information cascade which occurs outside the pixel layer of details. In other words, it isn't a question of how tightly executed the image is but the relationships between the component parts or sub-images which make up the artwork. (it doesn't have to be a picture)

In this respect there is a difference between Hope and Gursky. in the case of Gursky, the detail gets there as a function of granularity, the detail exists in nature, and it is fractal. It is self similar and depending on how close in you go the detail all starts to look alike. Moreover, it is just an artifact of nature and contains a very low level amount of information about the artist.

Hope's pieces do something similar but since they are programmatically generated, essentially a collage of many computer generated images, the final image contains a high level recording of the artists working decisions. Now we may or may not be interested in Hope's decision making process, but the fact that it is embodied in the final work places him closer to Dali than Gursky

7/24/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I don't know Gombrich well but I hope he mentioned Kant because really that was sort of vulgarizing Kantian notions the same way I coincidentally tried right before Gam's post.

Cedric C

7/24/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Cedric, Reading from the bottom up, I missed your comment the first go around. But, you took what I think was the right approach. Moreover, the approach which may be needed in the present.

I think it's more than a question of seeking information, that's a black hole of noise, but rather making the relationships between the bits and pieces of information. There's a guy at Berkley, Alva Noë who has written an interesting theory of perception which posits that what we do is compare the succeeding bits of nearly instantaneous stimuli and perceive that.

Further, in the vein of your comment, there is a very complex series of connections within the brain that deals with stimuli in what can only be described as a poetic fashion. In addition to all the sensory inputs, which are coordinated in time - no mean feat, there are also the suppressed motor outputs, associative memories, object categorization, etc all happening at once in some survival based prioritized order - how we manage to do anything is a mystery.

That all said, I find the detail fascination more trivial than many others. I am very interested in the other parts cognitive process which reveal how we see the world. They have to do with ordering but I don't think they are simple.

7/24/2009 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

I've been thinking about this detail thing and I think it has to do with the minds need for organization. Its all systems based, building blocks to create a greater meaning. We need to organize so we can have meaning.

I like that human interpretation of nature is still based on systems that are found in nature. Small building blocks that form larger pieces: atoms, cells, organs, stems, leaves, flowers, gardens, crowds, forests, planets. We build from that idea of small things, grain, brush strokes, pixels all are built up to create a greater whole that mimics nature. And then there is infinity.

All we are are is dust in the wind dude.

7/24/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger jec said...

I have no solution to your problem, Ed, and it's one I deal with as well.

I saw the show this week and was really blown away by the work. I have to admit that I didn't expect to be, since the images on the website didn't intrigue me. My friend and I left the gallery talking about the issues of looking at images online vs. looking at the actual work.

If you find a way to improve online viewing of artwork, please share it!

7/26/2009 11:17:00 AM  

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