Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Called for Jury Duty

Yesterday, I was called for jury duty downtown. The jury room was crowded with prospective jurors, so all many of us did all day was wait and periodically listen in vain for our names to be called. This left plenty of time for reading, chatting on cell phones, snacking to excess, catching up on homework, puzzle-solving, nodding off, and in my case, sketching. By the way, the hallway walls outside the 11th floor jury room, at Clara Shortridge Foltz criminal courts building, appeared to be tiled in Heath tiles--am I right? On the trip home, I also took the opportunity to ride the Metro's Gold Line for the first time--amazingly pleasant.

I also had plenty of time to catch up on reading.

This, Alberti on Painting, translated by John R. Spencer, is what I mainly read, though I also read a history of courts and juries complied for Juror Appreciation Week and parts of the recent fiction issue of the New Yorker, left behind by another citizen. (It has a preview of R. Crumb's Genesis illustrations.)

I got through the introduction, Book One and part of Book Two of Alberti, before we were dismissed from service. So far, it is a fascinating work by Alberti, an early 15th century citizen of Florence who was truly a Renaissance man. Among his many interests was painting, and he wrote two versions of his treatise on painting, one in Latin, for potential patrons of the arts, and one in Italian, for the artists to use to learn to paint differently. Artists did use it, and his theories influenced the painters who came after him.

Briefly, in Book One, he teaches one-point perspective to artists (geometry for artists). His is a mathematical approach to painting in perspective, as opposed to an observational one (which is the route his contemporary Brunelleschi took, according to the translator's notes). The decription lacks illustrations and examples, which apparently Alberti provided in person. Later painters, including Leonardo da Vinci, fleshed out the instructions in their own works.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Book One lies in his references to "miracle" paintings he has shown to his friends--the miracle not being subject matter, but the realism with which he portrayed scenes, so that they felt they were looking at real scenes. Spencer (the translator) concludes that Alberti, set his painting in a box in such a way as to force the viewer, looking through a hole and also holding a mirror, to see it from exactly the right point to maximize the illusion of three-dimensionality. (This is a 1966 translation, so it is quite possible that this theory has been rejected or revised since then.)

Here's the most current version of Karate Student at Night. It's also posted alongside the first version, at the earlier post. I've mainly worked on the doors, handles and student.


  1. I only see one version of Karate Student at Night.

    I'm impressed at how well you used your time downtown.

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  3. I'm dodging the same civic duty. Trying to call as late as possible until I'm practically in the no show category.

    I'm reading a book on Duveen "The Story of the most spectacular art dealer of all time," (sub head). Fascinating the influence he had on what we find in museums today. Know anything about him? (Miss H gave me the tip, based on Huntington posts.)

  4. Margaret, I think I exhausted myself with all that "well used time" spent in a less than comfy chair. Anyway, I was thrilled to be outdoors and done for the year by the end of the day. (The two paintings, together, are at the June 4th posting.)

    AH, good luck. Hadn't heard of Duveen, but from the Amazon sampler, it looks like he stocked some of my favorite places, like the Frick in NYC and the Huntington here--and without too many scruples.

  5. Wow, do you ever use your time well! Fascinating stuff, Jean. And the Karate Student at Night is glorious. I love the perspective of your paintings -- I keep coming back to the word cinematic. (Forgive my film school background.) There are stories in the subtext of your work and that is what interests me the most.

    AH, you have such great suggestions. I hadn't heard of Duveen either.

  6. Thanks, Laurie. I don't know anything about perspective, yet, and I paint from an emotional and observational place in my brain, so technical rules need to be fully absorbed and synthesized before they're of use to me, but reading about perspective is a place to start that process.

    And I love this virtual book club; Duveen's biography sounds like a great addition.

  7. More tortuous links. This one is Hockney's latest assertion that precise realism achieved by the masters can be traced back to lenses and mirrors. Of course i will never get through this myself. My current bedside read is "North Korean Posters" from the david Heather collection. Lots of pictures.

  8. At last, a reference I'm familiar with, though I didn't really read it; just skimmed some and studied the pictures (frequently what happens to me if it's a book with illustrations). I concluded that all Hockney really demonstrated is that, with or without help from a camera obscura, it is the skill of the particular artist that is crucial.

    Interestingly (at least to me), Spencer considered and rejected the theory that Alberti used a camera obscura, pointing out that he preceded by something like a hundred or more years its invention.

  9. Hey Jean, I'm going in to do my civic duty tomorrow. Are you still there?

  10. Nope. But have fun. At the least, downtown LA--if that's where your courthouse is, is fascinating. And if you make it to a jury, it can be an interesting experience. (At least, it was for me, the one time I made it onto a jury.) This last time, it was just one long day of too much sitting in a crowded room and then dismissal for the yesr.

  11. Thanks for the lesson on Alberti, Jean. I had to teach perspective when I was teaching Basic Drawing. It was not considered to be of importance when I was in art school. But I somehow got through it by using the handouts of other instructors.
    As for Hockney; I have known his work for a long time and ... believe me if you will, he drew much better before using the camera lucida. I saw his exhbit at the Hammer of the drawings using the device. I also saw the camera lucida itself. His pevious drawings were much superior. Yes, Vermeer did use a device, as did Albrecht Durer. So, I am not totally opposed to "devices". We do have to work through all this stuff and all this teaching and then, somehow, just let go of it.

    I think that the book "Zen in the Art of Archery" makes the point.

    When I made the journey to Florence almost 2 years ago, it was amazing - a real spiritual retreat.

    My new work with The Skies is a real release from all I learned and all I taught.

  12. Shanna, thanks. You're expressing what I was thinking, both about the Hockney drawings and also about the process of learning stuff and then letting go of it--very necessary to the process.

    I am loving what you're posting on VIEW. And it sounds like Zen in the Art of Archery is another book to check out.

  13. Also, I've been getting more and more interested in going to Florence. I've never been there, and it would be fascinating to see the place where so much happened in art and architecture.

  14. I've been reading this discussion and thinking I had no comment. I know very little about art except what I like or don't like. But this business about learning the rules then letting go of them applies to all arts, I think. It even applies to sports. It's the "you have to know the rules before you can break them" adage.

    Good stuff.