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Tuesday, 23 January 2018


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Unfortunately, the take away that often trickles down to the public at large from any major groundbreaking work or philosophy is usually the simplest, easiest, most watered down version of whatever it tried to impart in the first place...

And love that Crowley!

if you want to be sure of appealing to viewers, "make it big and make it red."

If it still isn't any good - put it in a Red Frame.

Coming from you, that Britten quote shocks. To knock Beethoven -- more to the point, humanism -- demands better ammo than snotty screed from a 3rd rate composer with a 4th rate mind. With any cliché, rot sets in -- by definition. No reinforcement necessary.

Feeling guilty as I can't imagine my submission was not the impetus for that post!


Fred Herzog makes your point quite clearly: color used with subtlety. It talks to you and seduces you, instead of screaming.

You have to be careful about confusing "worth" with "monetary value." I really like much of the art of the 20th Century, but I find most total abstraction (as with both Rothko and Kelly) to pretty much function as wallpaper for rich people. It has no content that can be apprehended by looking at it: you need to be given an explanation by a theorist before you can approach it, and until the 20th Century, that was never the case. So I agree that Crowley's photo is really "better" art in the sense that it can be apprehended by a viewer without need for a verbal explanation.

Wow, not only is the Kelly not art, but it's "thought-free". I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

[What I meant and should have said is that it doesn't make ME think. --Mike]

I am not a fan of either Rothko or Kelly. When I was in art school (BFA 1971) we were required to make paintings to two colors juxtaposed to demonstrate how opposite colors on the color wheel affected our impressions of both colors, especially if they were the same tonality (color vibration). We did them as two halves of a painting or one on the other as stripes, zigzags or dots. We called them design exercises, not art. They were visual skill builders like the pianist practicing scales but they don't play them in concert. Pianists play actual music in concerts.

Despite years of art school including many art history courses, I have never been able to understand how such exercises have become accepted as "Art". One, in particular, stands out in my mind. I went to the Ottawa National Art Gallery with some friends who pointed out a very large canvas (eight feet square?) that was painted solid red. I was told that they had paid over a million dollars for it. I could easily reproduce it with a Wagner Power Painter. If that painting was "creative" and original I have a lot of walls (both interior and exterior) that I have painted over the years that I wish someone had paid me a lot more to paint. I would have happily taken $100K per wall. I'm not greeedy. ;-)

Some of Ellsworth Kelly I "get." Most, not. This is outside the Barnes Museum:

And this is on the inside:

The latter I kinda like. The former always prompts me to want to buttonhole Kelly and ask for some 'splaining.

Your quotation of "make it big and make it red." reminded me of a thought that I had after looking at the e-mail of my submission to "Must Be Color".

In looking at the 800 pixel wide version of the image I sent you, the thought crossed my mind that what touches me about that image shrinks drastically (pun intended, unfortunately) when compared to its effect as a 12" x 18" print on the wall. For me, a lot of what the image is about is the small amounts of color in a large, bleak, and otherwise almost colorless landscape.

As a small image, that landscape does not have the same effect upon me, so the color has a different impact, and the total image is not the same - for me. Others may look at it differently, but I cannot imagine wanting a small print of that image.

This brings up a thought for a potential future Baker's Dozen article. Are there images that "Must Be Big", or images that "Must Be Small"?

- Tom -

My brain kinda fizzled at the "this yellow and blue is art and the other yellow and blue isn't." Either it's a matter of intention, which is obviously the same in both cases, or execution, which is merely technical. Execution is all that differs art from not art? I sure hope not.

My first instinct was to sally forth with a response to modernism/minimalism as the antithesis of actual artistic skill and mastery. I mean, seriously. Just compare Rothko to Rembrandt's Night Watch. They're on different planets.
But that's almost the point! Art is about the experience, about what hits you between the eyes and stops you in your tracks. What stuns you into silent reverie may bore me to tears or lead me to question the museum's sanity for buying such dreck. All art is utterly subjective. That's part of its beauty.

the first level of attainment for Royal Photographic Society members is the ARPS ( associate of the royal photographic society)

the ARPS was widely understood to mean ‘ a red patch somewhere’

Mike, that was a great bit of writing... you're on a roll with writing right now, aren't you? .. Must be the long cold dark nights where you are. Here, down under in Victoria, Australia, it's forecast to be over 40 Celsius ( 104 F) where I live for the next three days. I'd like to try and contrast the crisp brown, dry fields with deep blue sky but it's challenging to go out for the day, even in an air conned car. But you've just convinced me to. So I will. I won't need waders, but will need water! Thank you for the link to Sebastian Kim's site Brilliant pix.

My wife is writing a book on right brain-left brain observations. I now realise the previous comment was very left brain. I had to use my right brain to decipher the Britten quote to its essence. Had never read that one before. Very apt.

Red ceiling

Hi Mike
Some of your readers may be interested in the place of ‘The Red Ceiling’ in rock and roll history due to its use on Big Star’s second LP. Significant photos used as covers on significant LPs might make a good topic.
Regards and keep up the great work. It’s much appreciated.



Mike, while I won’t be submitting any entries to “It must be color”, you got me thinking about how important looking for that splash or touch of color is in telling the story you’re striving for. I’ve always thought that for color to work, it has to be the very first thing a viewer sees. I had fun the last two days with my Cairns, Sam and Max, to see if I could come up with a couple of images that had to be color. Not sure if they work for you, but it was a fun exercise. Thanks for the challenge.



The subjectiveness of art does tend to polarise reactions. I will readily (not happily) admit my ignorance of the fine arts. This makes it difficult for me to appreciate a lot of art in the modern era. It seems one needs a detailed and comprehensive understanding of art history, significant movements and developments etc, before one can attempt to approach pieces with even a snowball’s chance in hell of understanding what the artist was intending to convey.
A frustration (maybe also a misunderstanding) that I’m still debating with myself whether it’s worth the effort of overcoming.

With all due respect, that quote from Britten sounds like something that belongs as a historical footnote in the 19th century. Glory of God and the state in the post modern era? Art has progressed a lot since then, with plenty of works looking inward on ourselves and the human condition.

Talking about Eggleston, his style is distinct to the point of attracting its fair share of emulation, but on a good day Eggleston produced fine work. I don't think that avenue has been fully explored, but it's easy to fall into the trap of emulating classics rather than doing something new along the same themes.

I remain convinced Eggleston woke up with a horrible hangover induced by an overindulgent night with his friend in Greenwood, Mississippi....reached to pick up his camera from the floor to which it had fallen when he passed out...fumbled it, and accidentally snapped the photo referred to above.

Just my view; no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise. If that be heresy, so be it.

When in Houston Rothko fans must go visit the Rothko Chapel at the Menil Collection. Even non-fans will find it moving or just interesting ("Really!? This exists?") and that thought alone can make for an imprint. Of course, pictures on line do not do it justice, it is a space more than a scene.

Hmm. I think I see where you're going. I'd have to say that I chose the image I submitted because it reminds me of the (in)famous Eggleston trike that just wouldn't be anything but an average snapshot if weren't for those "strong" colors as you call them. In his case the rust on the trike, in the case of the image I sent, the green brown of the oaks against that all too rare pure blue sky. Perhaps no one else would agree but to me that the colors made it - just as with the trike - and to lose them would lose the image.

A lot of artists whose work looks like it is only about color is in fact also about surface, but that gets lost in reproduction.
Only two exceptions come to mind. Albers. who tried to minimize the object in his "interaction of color" but perversely the silkscreened cards acquired a fetish* like status, and James Turrell who famously got sued when a woman** tried to lean against what she thought was a painted wall that wasn't there and broke her arm. I don't know, maybe the lack of surface is about surface too?

Anyway, Ellsworth Kelly's work has a lot more physicality than comes across in reproduction.

"if you can't make it good make it big if you can't make it big make it red"
Probably Paul Rand, but it's widely attributed to a lot of other people if you really want to go down that rabbit hole.

*an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. , not the other meaning

** this happened twice to two women in fact.

I'll second Tom's opinion (above). Having to shrink my submission to 800 pix on the longest side, in my estimation, ruined it for me. For an antidote, I'm going downstairs now to contemplate my (printed on 13x19 paper) print.

Having spent the last three years working in the galleries at The Phillips Collection, I've had the chance to experience both their Rothkos (the famous Rothko Room) and the various Ellsworth Kelly works that were on display. I can not emphasize enough that "the reproduction is not the work of art". In other words, experience the art IN PERSON to find out what value it might have for you. The Rothko Room is a powerful place if you approach it with the proper (meditative) frame of mind, and take the time to experience it as intended. Luckily, many visitors to the Phillips do just that- but of course many more of them just walk in and walk out. So be it. I find the Rothkos to be deep and complex, the Kellys to be simpler in concept and execution. I prefer Rothko, but I'd suggest anyone who has an interest in color go see the originals. I'm a realist photographer (I use a view camera) and the works of both artists have value to me.

Masterful writing Mike, Chapeau!

"TAGORE: ....Has melody suffered in your music by the imposition of harmony?

EINSTEIN: Sometimes it does suffer very much. Sometimes the harmony swallows up the melody altogether.

TAGORE: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.

EINSTEIN: It is a beautiful comparison; line is also much older than color. ..." --Tagore-Einstein conversations (July 14, 1930) (https://www.mindpodnetwork.com/albert-einstein-rabindranath-tagore-discuss-music/)

I guess it is no surprise that a lot of photographers like representational art and are not attracted to abstract work, but “ is it Art?” The question bores me, it is bad enough to hear it from Jonathan Jones, of course it is art! I will point out that Rothko painted his in 1954 and was painting a radical experiment. Kelly painted his a decade later, you can justify arguing that it is derivative but that does not make it bad. Personally I enjoy both but I do value the originality of Rothko and the other artists that manage it. It requires a leap of creativity that is only rarely available to an artist as all art builds on the past.

I don't know where in my youth and education I got the idea that art must be stratified and appreciated and accorded value accordingly. I still have more than a few vestiges of this coloring my lenses because there is art, and there is...expression.

+1 for Crowley here.

I think the best test of how critical color is to a photo, is to compare color and B&W versions side by side. Sometimes they will both work (even if very differently) and often they won't.
The Britten comment surprised me. Utter nonsense. Apparently he feels the highest (only?) function of music is glorifying higher authority. Freeing up music from that straightjacket has produced some of the greatest music written. I find that some of my favorite classical music is written with a sense of humor. E.G. Beethoven's "Rage over a lost Penny", the 3rd movement of Mahler's First Symphony (the Titan), which is a set of variations on "Frere Jacque", and the "Surprise Symphony". I'm afraid Britten was just reflecting his own bias in writing music.
Looking forward to seeing your selection of color photos.

The Rothko looks like it was painted in the 50s. The Kelly looks like it could have been painted yesterday.

I am a huge fan of both Kelly and Rothko. Kelly is one of my (admittedly many) heros. Then there is of course Josef Albers who I feel every artist and photographer should make some time to study.

And as to the "if you want to be sure of appealing to viewers, "make it big and make it red."

If it still isn't any good - put it in a Red Frame" quote.

The actual quote is by the designer Paul Rand (the designer of, amongst other things, the IBM bar logo) who said to one of his students "If you can't make it good make it big. If you can't make it big, make it red". When said student was having trouble with a logo design.

Locally, both (red and/or big) seem popular avenues ...

Aargh! I meant the photo, not the painting!

I also found the Britten quotation shockingly wrong, all the more so because I think of Britten himself as very much better than third-rate.
He is one of my musical heroes; seeing and hearing a good performance of Peter Grimes is a very moving experience for me, at least.

The Kelly and Rothko paintings mean about as much to me as two cars that have been repainted in those colours. One car has been sprayed reasonably well, and the other was painted with an old wallpaper brush.

Interesting enough perhaps, but not art.

I liked this conjunction of Blue & Yellow; of Art and Photo Art.

David Alan Harvey once told me he had all of his images printed in BW whilst editing his classic book Divided Soul. All the photos were shot on Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome. He didn't want the colours to be the main reason the images worked. He was searching for content.

I haven’t met yet a single person that hasn’t been deeply moved by seeings Rothko’s paintings in person. It is the painter that is recurrently used as an example of the importance and value of seeing the art itself instead of in reproductions.

Art,schmart! I guess I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate Rothko (and yes, I've seen his work in a museum)

Okay, I will confess to never having seen a Rothco in the "flesh" but... I have seen a fair amount of his work as reproductions in art history textbooks and elsewhere.

I remember reading Molly Barnes' book "How to Get Hung". It was/is advice to artists on how to get representation in galleries. Molly was a former art dealer/ gallerist herself as of the writing of the book and was acquainted with Mark Rothko.

In the book, she told of an exchange between Rothko and someone who asked him what he was trying to communicate with his work and he replied (I'm paraphrasing here because I don't have the book at hand) "Yellow looks different next to blue than it does next to red." That was pretty much the point of the art student design exercises I mentioned in my earlier response.

I was once at MOMA and saw one of Monet's Water Lilies paintings. There were not a lot of people there and I examined it from different viewpoints. Suddenly I found myself at what must have been the point from which Monet decided what stroke to put where and the painting came alive. The canvas disappeared and I was looking at his pond of water lilies. I was seeing through his eyes and it was exhilarating.

Perhaps if I stood at the perfect spot in relation to a Rothko I would see that yellow looks different next to blue than it does next to red but then, I already knew that.

Look what I found, literally at the bottom of the lane behind my office:

I can hear the art critics now: "Blue over Yellow is such a radical new approach after so many decades of Yellow over Blue!"

A number of years ago I saw Claude Monet's "Gardener's House at Antibes" at a show at the DIA in Detroit. While looking at it I noticed that it appeared to be painted in the early Spring as the leaves were not fully in bloom. At this point I felt and experienced that it was one of those days when the ground is still cold but there is a warmth in the air. It brought back the memory of how days like that feel. I physically felt this sensation. Not a lot of at can do this.

I don't think that any photo can do justice to most art compared to seeing the actual piece in person. Looking at the deeply textured brush strokes gave me a physical connection to the artist himself. No photo can do this. http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1916.1044

Suggestion, Mike:

For Baker's Dozen Calls for Images, any chance of building a gallery of submissions as a whole, from which you then pull your sense of the leading images to blog about?

Kind of like having a few featured comments for a post followed by the whole comments chain.

Reasoning: I am fascinated by the wide range of approaches that readers of your blog take to photographing the world - or whatever else they choose to depict. Any subset of a dozen only catches a fraction of that, even with one extra thrown in, and as you note, there's an awful lot of very competent imagery in what people send you.

I imagine bandwidth might figure in to this - but maybe having a gallery separate from your blog proper would help with that. Don't know if those galleries can persist for a while. If so they would be a great way to browse for inspiration.

If you feel like you get too many images for your bakers' dozens to do this, perhaps consider shortening your window of time for submissions a little. Not too much though or I'll miss out on too many of them!

Jeff Clevenger

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