November 11, 2017

Facebook Censorship of Art and The Problem of Decision Making Via Algorithm

Tomorrow I will have my book signing at the Portfolio Gallery. In conjunction with this book signing I will also be exhibiting and selling original drawings, some from The Book of Marvelous Cats, others just on the feline theme.

All was going well with my preparations. The work had been delivered. I ran a last minute ad on Facebook while preparing refreshment snacks. Then something happened to put a significant damper on the festive mood. Facebook wrote to me with a letter of "disapproval" for my drawing. I read their justification for their disapproval and not allowing me to advertise my drawings. I blinked in disbelief at their words. The completely innocuous drawing above was labeled by the Facebook crew as "indecent," "showing too much skin," "having sexual content," and "not in keeping with my product."

I wrote back to them explaining that there in fact was no sexual content. The content was about a man who took a bath, sat on a towel and looked at a piece of art work on his wall while his cats played in the background. If anyone actually read my description they would have understood this.

Here is the narrative that went with my drawing:

"It was Christmas Eve and Bertrand was alone. He turned up the heat in his apartment, poured himself a glass of white wine and sat on the floor to admire a large painting of dancing men that he had just purchased. The painting was just beyond the boundaries of his budget, but he had no regrets, for this piece of art made his soul smile. It was Christmas Eve, and although Bertrand was alone, he was not lonely. He had his music, his art, his warmth and his cats.
Enjoy this drawing in person tomorrow at the Portfolio Gallery in Columbia, SC and meet the artist from noon to 3PM."

To counter the "too much skin" charge from Facebook I pointed out that the figure has his back turned and not even much of that is showing. I simply stated that it is most certainly not indecent to sit on a towel and look at a painting. As to their last charge that it "is not in keeping with my product" I can only say that I am an artist who makes drawings. This is a drawing. My product is an exhibition of my drawings, of which this is included. The theme of the exhibition is cats. There are two cats present. Tomorrow I can only hope that there will be people present.

What caused Facebook alarm about this rather na├»ve yet joyful drawing?  I can only conjecture that they had used some sort of algorithm in the screening of images and that my drawing fell haplessly into that evaluation.  Hopefully they will correct this.  In the mean time, figurative artists, museums that exhibit nude paintings,  and galleries that exhibit figurative art should beware.  Facebook might think that you're obscene.

November 11 - 12 Update: Facebook stands by their evaluation.  The image is not allowed.  "Too much skin."  I had not realized that figurative art with nude or semi-nude figures is not allowed.  How, then, would a museum trip to the Sistine chapel be advertised?  Way too much skin there for sure.  So I put the question to Facebook on how, given their restrictions, would someone advertise something like an art trip to the Sistine chapel as their guidelines would not allow any images.  In reviewing their guidelines, not only are all nude images prohibited, but all draped figures as well.  The latter are described as "implied nudity."  We'll see how they respond.  It seems like the crew that drew up these guidelines had not anticipated art or art history tours.  In the mean time, the controversy simply made for some interesting conversation at my exhibition today.

November 10, 2017

The Bullet Pointed Life with Painted Leaves

The next ten days will be very busy for me. When things become this active my life becomes a series of small tasks, punctuated by art that I can complete quickly. The days are filled with activities that can be described by bullet points.

In between these bullet points, I am making small paintings of falling leaves. The leaves themselves are printed with stamps that I carved from soft linoleum. I dip the linoleum in inks and paints. I print these are previously faux finished papers.

* I have an exhibition and book signing this Sunday at the Portfolio Gallery in Columbia, SC from noon to 3 PM. The books and the work has been delivered but there are still some preparations to be made.

* I have a book cover design to paint that I have only just started. I’ve finished refining the interior illustrations as well as the text. Will I have the energy and concentration necessary to do the final work?

* The house needs to be cleaned much more thoroughly than usual for my open studio visit and fall clearance sale. Can I do this in ten days?

* Bills always arrive while we’re away. Oddly enough I don’t open them as soon as we come back home. Will I make the deadlines?

I should be attending to paperwork and other mundane tasks but I find that I can only do so much drudge work before the yearning to paint or draw surfaces, insisting to be fulfilled.

* The yard needs to be straightened out a little better. Are there simply too many leaves to rake up in time for my fall clearance sale the weekend after next?

November 8, 2017

Wrapped, Painted, Printed, Sewn and Stenciled Art

Preparing for a studio sale sometimes generates more art. The point is to clear out the studio to make room for more work and a more comfortable environment in which to create that work. It is always satisfying when clean up means finding interesting ways to use up odds and ends of materials.

On a recent trip to Charleston, a friend and I stopped by a junk shop where I purchased a collection of badly made wooden box frames. I hesitated to buy them because at ten dollars for seven of them, they were still overpriced. But my friend encouraged me to get these because she thought that I could find a way to cover them up with something.

The frames stayed in an annoying unused presence in a bag in the middle of my sunroom for over a month before I finally had a chance to dispose of them. After sanding out, gluing and putting putty on all the defects, I figured that they would be best used for small wrap around canvases.

I decided to make a wrap around canvas using the extra primed muslin I had left over from my giant painted snake project. For the small squares I also used the same stamps that I had made previously for the patterns on those three dimensional decorative snakes.

I cut the primed muslin generously in order to have enough to wrap around the sides and back of the wooden frames - covering up as much as possible. This I faux finished, stamped, stained and generally had a good experimental time with. When the paintings were dried I decided to sew on focal points using my previously made ceramic buttons. I liked the end effect yet I found that I liked the full design flat a bit better than wrapped around the edges of the canvas. Perhaps in the future I’ll just make larger squares with more elaborate designs.

November 7, 2017

History Revised and Recruited

In my last blog post, I mentioned my letting go of original drawings from my Book of Marvelous Cats and my surprise at being a little reluctant to part with some. Time, accumulation, and changes of circumstance generally do work their effects on sentiment. In addition to parting with my drawings, I will be putting miniature paintings of felines up for sale as well.
 The paintings date from 2010, when the world’s attention was focused on a group of miners trapped deep underground in a copper mine in Chile. For every day the miners were trapped underground, I made a small painting. I divided these paintings in to five sections: bats for when the miners were starving while waiting to be found, folk art bats with round luminous disks on their chests for when the bore hole that brought sustenance to them broke through, jaguars for the days spent waiting for the larger escape tunnel to break through, dogs for when the miners had to work to remove rocks as the escape tunnel bore down, and finally the birds for the flight out of the mines in the contraption named "the phoenix."

I made TIFF files of the whole collection and sent this to the Chilean Embassy. I don’t think anything was done with it, but the ambassador did give me a nice book on the history of U.S. Chilean diplomatic relations.

When the Chilean miners were rescued, they became stars for a while. I had some reservations about how they were being treated, fearing that as the news cycle ended and the focus off, the same miners would be neglected. This fear proved to be well founded. The miners lost their lawsuits, they fell on economic hard times. Some returned to the mines. I cannot imagine how awful it would be to swallow one’s feelings of claustrophobia and be forced once again down a mine shaft. The miners apparently did not benefit from the movie made about their trials, either, not even being given a bit part!

In a strange sort of synchronicity, the miniature paintings I made from that time have also been readjusted and reduced in a number of ways. They were never sold as a set. The price has been reduced somewhat. And the bold, brave jaguars? They too, were modified to appear as domestic cats. I’m still at work on them - giving them cat faces and cat ears and putting them back to work. I hope that they pay some bills.

November 6, 2017

The Book of Marvelous Cats Book Signing

The month of November will be exceptionally active. I will have a book signing at the Portfolio Gallery in Columbia, SC this Sunday in conjunction with an exhibition and sale of my original illustrations. In order to prepare, I spent a good part of October making small paintings and extra drawings for the occasion.

I don’t generally do this, but I held back some of my favorite illustrations from The Book of Marvelous Cats. I was aided in this by my husband not wanting to part with them all either. My husband’s sentiment was not surprising, as he has more attachment to things than I do. I surprised myself, though, by complying in tucking "The Magic Cat," "Aboriginal Cats," and "Mother Cat" back in to my folio. I also removed "Acrobatic Cats," and "Guardian Cat" for a patron who is purchasing them in advance of the book signing. The best ones!

Other preparations for my book signing event included obtaining better artist biography handouts, new business cards, new business stationary, and a great poster design. I do hope all this works and I can make a bit of an artistic comeback.

October 13, 2017

Pictures for Frontline's "The War on the EPA"

Frontline recently aired a documentary, "The War on the EPA." It was disturbing to say the least. What was poignant to me, however, was not just the actions taken to dismantle a regulatory agency, but the language used to justify it. The title, "The War on the EPA," is perhaps an ironic answer to the phrase "The War on Coal," bantered about by the fossil fuel industry and a rallying cry for support of the Trump administration.

There is no "war on coal." That is a fiction, just as this administration’s support for coal miners is a fiction. They support the industry CEO’s who benefit from the labor of the latter. Industry gets more money from deregulation, miners get a nod towards their healthcare but without saving their pensions: And does not the repeal of the steam protection rule simply allow industry to pollute the environments where coal miner’s live and work? Considering the insult, it would seem to be almost obscene that this administration trots out coal miners at ceremonies to dismantle EPA protections. It causes me to wonder at how they get away with this.

Getting away with stamping out environmental and health protections appears to be about message and the money to buy that message. An interesting feature about the fossil fuel industry, for instance, is that they never used the phrase "fossil fuel." I noticed. I think this is their way of pretending that we don’t actually have a limited supply of the stuff. A number of science sites that I’ve read recently give our planet about fifty more years for oil, about the same for natural gas, and about a hundred and fifty more years to exhaust the coal supply. The caveat here is that after the first two are expended, we may not have that much time left on the last one after all. Here language such as the oxymoron, "clean coal," serves to gloss over the increased CO2 emissions from burning all that back up coal, thereby fueling climate change. And industry money helps send out a smoke screen to obscure and confuse the science of anthropogenic climate change to great effect.

Money buys effective anti-environmental protection propaganda and effective legal protection as well. In industry funded attack ads, environmentalists are depicted as demonized "elites" who care nothing for the working man or woman. It is apparently quite effective in garnering support. Perhaps some day we who care about the health of our environment and the well being of our citizens can come up with more effective messages of our own. For now, my charcoal drawings of fossils are just a bit irreverent.

October 10, 2017

Tiny Art to Break the Tedium for People with Tiny Budgets and Lots of Friends

It has been a while since I have done a serious inventory of my work. Inventory. Just the sound of the word gives me shudders. It evokes the torture of tedium. I grumble as I leave off making art in order to count, repair, sort and tabulate. Then I feel a certain sense of shame as I go through old mailing lists, taking out people who have moved or passed away. Inventory is vantitas - forced to confront one’s foolishness at not keeping things in proper order while joyously creating art that will most likely simply accumulate. 

Inventory subjects the artist to a comeuppance of facing unsold works, missing works, forgotten work, good work and not so good work.

After a period of delving in to boxes of stuff, however, I begin to make modest works of tiny art. What could it hurt? It certainly does not take up much room. And the nice thing about tiny art is that it can be done quickly, with a freedom to experiment. Most of these works are about 3" x 5" or so. They’re like grace notes of mixed media. I’ve posted a number of these already on my Etsy site as the season of gift buying is just about upon us. I even created a separate category of "Small Works" for that site. Tiny art for tiny budgets or for people with a lot of friends.

October 5, 2017

East Art West Art

A friend recently posted something on social media about the difficulties he faced teaching art in China. I am being rather loose in paraphrasing here, but the chief complaint was that although his student’s work was technically proficient, he felt that it lacked a certain creative spark and spontaneity. The students, he lamented, were also not versed in art history as well as he would have hoped.

Having spent so many years studying art in China, this post and the responses interested me very much. During those years, I was impressed by the depth, complexity and ancient origins of Chinese art. Several lifetimes of study could not even begin to serve it well. What also impressed me was how poorly understood and isolated Chinese art was outside of the specialty disciplines of art historians.

Judging from the response to my friend’s post, this is still true in large part today. My friend was most likely teaching oil painting and perhaps some history of western art. I cannot evaluate the quality or depth of his student’s painting because no images were posted. I do recall that all those years ago, when I was studying Chinese art and language, oil painting was taught by professors trained by the Soviets. The gist of the post did make me wonder whether or not that legacy was still an influence.

What did surprise and disappoint me were other conclusions that Chinese artists do not understand spontaneity, improvisation, or ingenuity. How, I wondered, could anyone conclude such a thing given the improvisational nature and spontaneity of calligraphy? Or the ingenuity and spontaneity of ink painting? I mentioned such things on the the sound of crickets as the saying goes. I then had to remind myself that the writers were most likely not aware of Chinese art history at all, let alone the history of Chinese writing.

I suppose what perturbed me for a few days after reading the above comments was the unspoken is art history. Perhaps from a western perspective, and a western understanding of art this is so. But could not this grip be loosened just a bit in order to at least acknowledge that other cultures have a history and art equally complex, equally compelling as our own?
thought that Western art history

For a few days, I completed sketches I had made previously of early Greek and Hellenistic statues. But I included a new twist in order to complete them. On the kneeling figure I wrote ancient Chinese seal script characters, signed my name in Cyrillic, and made a cross cultural linguistic pun in Chinese and Latin. On the back view of the kneeling figure I wrote Chinese calligraphy in running hand (script) style. I do hope these drawings have nuance - although more likely they are now just obscure!

October 4, 2017

The Mediterranean Campaign of 1944 in Charcoal

Today’s charcoal drawing of a street scene in Italy, circa 1944, was inspired by my father, Walter Kozachek Sr and is based upon his World War Two photo journal. This drawing follows the original composition rather closely, although I gave the nuns a little more space.  I was rather taken by how my father included those two nuns walking up the street to the far right.  The drawings I am doing now alter the composition somewhat.

There are ninety-two photographs in my father’s collection. I am hoping to cull about thirty of these to compose large charcoals. With only four completed, the road ahead seems as if it will be a long journey.

September 29, 2017

Sicily 1944 and 2017

I have been mining an unusual source of material for my large drawings - old black and white photographs that my father took of ports in North Africa and Italy during World War Two. I was fascinated by these photographs not only for their content and drama but for their composition as well. Although I have been altering the composition in my final drawings in order to make them more "my own," there is not much work I have to do other than get the gist of the scene on to paper and work from there.

In a photograph that I believe to have been taken in Sicily in 1944, a group of women wash clothes. A man watches from a doorway in the background. There is a darydreaming expression on a woman’s face. Of course drudgery is a good thing to be distracted from. But where was that glance in to the distance taking her?

For my final charcoal and pastel drawing, I left the man on the left out of the picture. I joked to my stepsister that I sent him back inside to do the ironing, but really I just wanted more room for the ladder. Other final changes allude to the year 2017, the crescents of the eclipse in the woodwork, and a hurricane looming in the wash water.