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Posts Tagged ‘images’

I’ve just seen the Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern; it’s on until 27 May if you want to catch it. It’s interesting as a lesson in art history, but disappointing as an artistic experience. Not many of the paintings have any real power or beauty; the tones and colours (from all the different periods) are so limited; and even in terms of line and draftsmanship the images seem either simplistic and without much grace or overcomplicated and unbalanced.

The exception is the famous comic book art from the early 1960s, and I’d almost call these masterpieces: “M-maybe he became ill and couldn’t leave the studio”, “Whaam”, “Oh Jeff I love you too but…”

whaam - roy litchenstein 1963 by oddstock

The history is important. When the Western art establishment was locked into abstract expressionism (which I love), along came Lichtenstein and WHAAM: he put some energy, drama, line and subject matter back into painting. You can argue as much as you like whether it was celebratory or ironic or just commercially clever. The fact is that in almost a single gesture it brought Western art back to where it had been for three thousand years: using images to tell stories. Lichtenstein’s pop art is about recovery and restoration. In the late 1950s, comic books were more in the mainstream of the Western canon than the studios of Manhattan and Chicago, and it took Lichtenstein to remind everyone of that.

IMG_0395 by clare and ben

It is the aesthetic of the ‘pregnant moment’. If you already know, more or less, the story, then you don’t need to read the whole comic. You just need to choose a single frame, a pregnant moment, which captures the drama and allows us to insert ourselves into the story. This is as true for WHAAM and M-maybe as it is for a painting of the Nativity or the Birth of Venus. The narrative fans out, forwards and backwards, from that key moment, just as the future and the past are continually fanning out from the present in ordinary human experience. We are only ever within a single moment, but we can’t experience or interpret that moment without being conscious of some kind of story.

Laura Cumming has a gushing review here. But Alastair Smart is more critical. Info and tickets are here.

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With London Fashion Week in all the papers last week, it reminded me of these photos I took a few weeks ago in Oxford Street. I passed a shop called Forever 21, and saw these two sleeveless T-shirts, with religious themes blazoned across them, but without any explanation.

What’s going on here? Is it just kitsch – like the pink glitter statues of the Sacred Heart in Paperchase? Is it some kind of irony? Is it a political statement – the meaning of which is lost on me? Is it a non-ironic outreach to Christian believers, recognising that there is a vast and largely untapped market here (probably not)? Is it a Banksy-style stunt by a radical Christian group that snuck past the CCTV and re-dressed the manequins before anyone could notice (apart from me)? Does it mean anything that the cross in the second picture is upside down?

Do comment below, especially if you know something I don’t know about this peculiar campaign. – or if you have one of the T-shirts yourself.

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Comic Book Struck by SheWatchedTheSky.With today’s Guardian you get a free facsimile copy of the children’s comic Whizzer and Chips – the edition from 8th April 1978. Holding it in my hands sent a wave of nostalgia rushing over me. I remember racing down the hill every saturday morning to the corner-shop, clutching my pocket-money – enough for a comic and a bag of penny sweets. I’m sure there were others, but my strongest memories are of Whizzer and Chips, Bullet (adventure stories in serial), and then 2000 AD – with the groundbreaking science-fiction art. I have the first two or three hundred copies stashed away somewhere with my old toys and schoolbooks; they must be collectables worth a fortune by now.

 

There is a lot to learn from the structure of the classic one-page comic strip. It forces you to think clearly. You have tVintage Ad #401: How's Trix? by jbcurio.o tell the story in a few simple frames. Each frame has to be clear and interesting in its own right. And each frame has to flow out from the previous one, while still containing some element of surprise. It’s this delightful combination of novelty and inevitability that keeps the story moving. Above all, it has to create a satisfying arc that takes you from A to B in a few simple steps. In other words, the comic strip is an education in how to structure and present a good argument. Most of us teachers would be more effective if we had to learn the discipline of creating a good storyboard.

Powerpoint is meant to help us do this. But for most people its effectiveness is diminished by projecting too many words. A friend of mine who lectures in law has found the perfect solution: She only uses images; ten or twelve for each hour long lecture. She vowed not to use a single word of text on any of her slides. It sounds mad, but apparently it works. Each image represents a single key idea. The result – she tells me – is a presentation that is entertaining and memorable; and the discipline of using only images forces her to tell a good story, and present a sound argument. I wanted to try this in my theology lectures this semester, but I left it too late, and went to the classroom this week with a pile of weighty texts in my hands…

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