Random Musing No. 1

August 4, 2018

The human eye has a range of 120°, mostly peripheral vision, compared to the camera’s typical 200° or more. That is why the figures sometimes seem distorted at the edges of a photograph. We make up for this seeming deficit by moving our focus (in movements called “saccades”) around a scene to build up a gestalt awareness of its appearance.
A painting, curated by human intelligence, is superior in every respect to a photograph, except for how long it takes to make it. If cameras took three hours to create the exact same image as they do now in a split second, there would be no question as to which medium people would choose when they needed an image recorded.


There it is.IMG_4239I was at the art store the other day to buy turpentine. THEY WERE OUT OF TURPENTINE. This was not Michael’s, this was Jerry’s Art-a-Rama, a reputable supply chain. The guy apologized to me and said someone had been in a few days earlier and cleaned them out; he then tried to sell me Gamsol. Out of forlorn hope I asked him about Flake White and he had some extremely overpriced small tubes which I didn’t buy (this just came in the mail). That got me started on the subject of metallic pigments and their relative toxicity. I said why worry about lead when cadmium and chrome are just as bad and he wordlessly pointed at a sign hung above the paint section: Winsor Newton is phasing cadmium colors and replacing them with Azo pigments.

It’s all the fault of the fucking namby-pamby Europeans. Stop trying to make my hobby safe! Are you going to restrict welders to using sparklers? Can sculptors now only work in styrofoam? And the same message to artists who are wrapped up in safety issues: if you feel obliged to wear a respirator and rubber gloves to paint in oils, DON’T PAINT IN OILS. MY access to potentially hazardous materials does not affect YOUR ability to avoid them. Stop trying to police my materials!


On the advice of a friend my wife (an elementary school art teacher) wanted to see “The Maiden Heist,” a movie starring Christopher  Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy as long-time museum security guards (the museum scenes were obviously filmed at the Worcester Art Museum although the scene is set ostensibly in Boston) whose favorite pieces of art are about to be shipped off to Denmark in order to make room for “dung sculptures and animal genitalia.” They decide to steal their respective pieces and replace them with forgeries. A very sweet movie and I enjoyed it immensely, but in a certain sense it was ruined for me by the logical inconsistencies involved.

  1. Making a good forgery. Morgan Freeman paints and, after 30 years of staring at his favorite piece, can reproduce it from memory. He cranks out an exact duplicate of his favorite, a woman holding a pitcher looking at a cat. The problem: presumably this (and the other two pieces) must withstand at least a cursory review by an art expert at their new destination. Freeman’s piece, based on its style, would seem to be genre painting of either the seventeenth or the nineteenth century. No matter how well-executed a painting is, one that old is going to show some signs of age after one or two hundred years: discoloring, fading and almost certainly some cracking from temperature/humidity-driven expansion and contraction of the canvas  (painting on panel are much less subject to cracking because of their support). The usual response to this issue is to obtain a painting from the same period as the one you propose to forge and paint over it in order to preserve the appearance of cracking.  If Freeman did this, there was no indication of it in the movie.
  2. How long does it take to do a painting? Walken’s character hires a street artist to do his forgery. He tells the artist he needs the painting in five days and he artist says no problem. Five days! I suppose it would be possible if the artist used acrylics, but an acrylic forgery of an oil painting would be pretty obvious, no matter how well-executed. A single touch would reveal the forgery. Hell, it would even smell wrong. An oil painting could be force dried in five days if you used a huge amount of drying agent like Japan dryer. However, the forgery would come to light when, after two years or so, the painting disintegrated and fell off the canvas.
  3. Transporting a bronze sculpture. William H. Macy’s character is obsessed with an antique bronze sculpture, by the looks of it about four feet high. He poses for the forgery himself. Ignoring the question of how accurate the forgery would be (unless the sculptor was clued in that he was doing a forgery), after casting, even if the sculpture were properly hollow-casted, one that size would weight at least four hundred pounds. Macy is shown smuggling his forgery into the museum in a cloth duffel bag. Not only would it rip through the bag, he would have been unable to lift it in the first place.

As I said, the movie was thoroughly enjoyable, but as an artist I was unable to sufficiently suspend my disbelief to receive the full benefit of its charms. My wife enjoyed it immensely, however.