Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What Does Now Look Like?


I am teaching Commercial Modernism in America 1865-1965, a class I last offered in 2011. It’s great course content–as I frame it, illustration, comics and animation, now with some history of photography and industrial design worked in. But my strongest affinities are with the visual journalism of that 100 years (and since). Since 2011 my own creative and pedagogical investments in illustrated reportage have sharpened and deepened.


Permit me to pivot to address the students of “CoMod,” as my abbreviations have it…


Last week you were assigned Baudelaire's The Painter of Modern Life as a reading. The essay, written in 1860 and published in 1863, pairs nicely with Manet's Olympia (1863), as the painting captures the frank engagement with the present for which the poet called (and was experienced as such an affront to the civilizing pretensions of art).


But Baudelaire's putative subject was the unnamed illustrator Constantin Guys, who did significant work for the London Illustrated News, particularly in Crimea. The essayist is less concerned with military reportage than with the immediacy and the evanescence of a cultural moment. Of Guys he writes:


The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd: For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world–such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito...


"Any man," he said one day, in the course of one of those conversations which he illumines with burning glance and evocative gesture, "any man who is not crushed by one of those griefs whose nature is too real not to monopolize all his capacities, and who can yet be bored in the heart of the multitude, is a blockhead! a blockhead! and I despise him!"


 This imperative–to engage what is, who is, how things look–suggests journalistic output. But other modes emerged, too. In the United States, the Ashcan School promoted frank reportorial realism in painting. Last year’s George Bellows exhibition at the Metropolitan revealed a social landscapist of keen insight and sometimes operatic reach.

Baudelaire credits his painter-illustrator-visual reporter with prodigious powers of observation, thoroughly attuned to his modern moment.


By 'modernity' I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable. Every old master has had his own modernity; the great majority of fine portraits that have come down to us from former generations are clothed in the costume of their own period...This transitory, fugitive element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or dispensed with.


What would the Constantin Guys of our time notice? Which customs and costumes, which artifacts, what speech, what ways of holding oneself, which contemporary textures, would our illustrator note and record? The beginning of that discussion focused particularly on technology: its manifestations and uses. Such an observation might have credibly been offered in any of the last 100 years. Which technology, what manifestations, and which influences upon contemporary life?


Secondly: what's behind the half-and-half formulation of the now and the ancient, the "contingent" versus the "immutable"? How shall we parse that equation in today's terms?

Our abortive discussion in class a week ago begs your response to these questions. With more time to reflect, what do you really think about this? What might be the difference between a superficial answer–smart phones!–versus a more searching one? Discuss. 


Images: George Bellows, Men of the Docks, 1912 (recently confirmed as having been purchased by National Gallery in London, the first major American painting to have been acquired for that collection); D.B. Dowd, San Rafael, California, brush drawing with digital color (composed on the morning of Mike Hirshon's wedding; my warmup that day), 2012; Edouard Manet, Olympia, oil on canvas,1863; Constantin Guys, Dandies in the Park, ink wash, n.d., Bellows, The Cliff Dwellers, 1912; Bellows, Splinter Beach, drawing on paper in ink, crayon and graphite, 1912; William Eggleston, Parking, color photograph, n.d., Eggleston, Untitled, color photograph, n.d., Bellows, 42 Kids, oil on canvas, 1907; Eggleston, Untitled Portrait, color photograph, n.d. (All the Eggleston stuff is from the late 1960s and early 1970s.)

19 comments:

Eden said...

In thinking about Baudelaire's essay I found myself trying to locate a modern-day Guys. I thought immediately of the work of the illustrator/cartoonist Adrian Tomine whose work comments perfectly and constantly on the moment we are all living in.

Tomine's covers for the New Yorker especially seem to capture a sense of "now". In August of 2009 Tomine did a cover that showed a group of people watching an outdoor movie under the Brooklyn Bridge. On the screen is an shot of the bridge, and the audience stares at that rather than at the real bridge in the background.

It strikes me that maybe this is getting at what "now" looks like for us- a culture of people defined by their experiences with media. More and more that media is some kind of digital experience happening on a smart-device. Those who pay attention see the bookstores closed or closing, the theaters waning in attendance and the percentage of Americans owning smartphones skyrocketing. Maybe a reworking of the cover would show baseball fans in the nosebleeds checking the score on their iPhones or kids sitting around in playgroup navigating mini games on their respective iPads.

Ali Dulman said...

In response to Eden, who offered Adrian Tomine as a modern-day Constantin Guys, I would counter that in today’s society, with the power of technology, every average Joe has the ability to do what Guys did in terms of capturing the now. Rather than picking one individual and trying to think what he or she would notice - the customs, costumes, artifacts, speech, ways of holding oneself - I think social media can give us a great sense of the now through everyone’s collective recordings. From instagrams to tweets to snapchat videos, the now is constantly being captured and described.

What customs? It’s customary to be on one’s phone during meals, evidenced by the constant flow of foodstagrams and Four Square check ins. What costumes? We see beanies and flannels, crop tops and combat boots in daily Facebook pictures. As for speech, the popular vernacular that comes to mind for my generation seems to all be related to partying - phrases like “turning down” and “raging” being frequented in tweets, Snapchat captions, and the like.

Technology has given everyone inhabiting the modern era the power to document the now in a way that only an illustrator like Guys could in the past.

Katie Calder said...

Eden and Ali bring up good points in regard to the influence and impact technology has today. As a character construct, a present-day Constantin Guys seems hard to find. Contemporary technologies hinder the ability to embrace the present moment, rather than aid in creating a passionate class of spectators.

Contemporary life is continuously being recorded by the means of smart phones, tablets and other recording devices. This offers some support to the argument that in this day and age, everyone is a spectator, aware and documenting day-to-day life. The contemporary individual seemingly desires to preserve what to them is contingent to the moment, and instead present it as immutable. This trend on the preservation of trivial moments ranges, whether through social media, or by simply having a personal inventory (like on a camera roll on an iPhone) of an event. At a glimpse this offers support on a growing culture of spectators, however, I’d like to propose the opposite.

Present-day technologies hinder individuals’ abilities to fully immerse themselves in the moment. There seems to be a growing anxiety around the “unreported moment”, referring to events that have no physical documentation. Essentially, it seems as if events that aren’t recorded did not actually happen. It is as if we need confirmation in order to deem an event true.

This concept of recording the moment is problematic. We get so caught up with recording a pre-determined script that oftentimes the real moment is missed altogether. I credit this almost entirely to current technologies. Ultimately, a contemporary Constantin Guys, a man of every moment, is a hidden gem.

Jisoo Park said...

I agree with Katie’s comment that everyone has become a recorder of everyday moment to a great extent with the increasing access to the personal smart-devices, and also that the excessively continuous record sometimes hinders the true essence of the moment altogether. When the thought of documentation becomes imperative, it rather keeps one from really synch into the moment.

Although one might lose the chance to really appreciate every moment, I would like to recognize that the technology also has formed a new culture, in response to people’s increasing interest in documenting events and moments to keep and to share with others through social media. There are applications for smartphones that enables and helps the user to be a better recorder (iMovie, roadmovie, instagram, etc) , and those further develops into a cultural movements and/or events such as iPhone film festivals. There are increasing number of artworks produced by smart devices that become an issue as they really are the records of ordinary events. I believe, to some extent, the phenomenon enriches our culture with aspects that are not necessarily highly professional, and makes more people to be engaged in recognizing the much potentials underlying in their lives.

Our ’now’ may not be reaching the level of Constantin Guys’ study and appreciation of moments; however, we are finding our ways to document what we think are memorable and meaningful, translate it into a culture out of our desire and share it with the world.

Paul said...

Following up on the above commenters, it seems natural that smartphones and social media occupy the center of this discussion – they are absolutely pervasive cultural influences for our generation. However, I disagree with the direct comparison between the constant documentation of daily life through such media and the fascination with the “heart of the multitude” and “ebb and flow” of rapid metropolitan life defining Guys’s work.

On the contrary, I think contemporary technology has enabled its users to churn out a jumble of excessive information so convoluted and vast that it drowns itself out. The ability to retrieve and observe some obscure moment among thousands from a friend’s Facebook album makes each single chunk of information meaningless. I would liken people who get caught up in the triviality of these endless chains to the type of person Guys criticizes, who “can yet be bored in the heart of the multitude.” The Facebook/smartphone-surfing mentality is defined by the same boredom: temporary distraction, a wandering obliviousness.

I’m not sure who a modern equivalent to Guys would be, but his search to extract the “transitory, fugitive element” from the breakneck urban rush of his era remains fully relevant today. It’s bizarre, and a bit poignant when we find that capturing these ephemeral moments is just a brief escape from the nonsense of daily life.

Danielle Leventhal said...

Professor Dowd brought up George Bellows as a possible example of an artist who is “attuned to his modern moment.” The biggest difference I see between Constantin Guys and Bellows is Guys’ goal of simply recording the beauty of modernity vs. Bellows’ aim to express cultural issues. One of Bellows’ focuses from 1905-8 exhibited recently at the Met examined the poor immigrant population of the city. He also painted controversial scenes of WWI in response to descriptions from the British government’s Bryce Committee Report and the American press.

I can’t help but draw a connection to Alfredo Jaar, the contemporary artist who recently spoke at Wash.U. and whose piece, “May 1, 2011” is currently on view at the Kemper. The piece includes two TV screens, one with the famous photo of White House officials watching the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the other left blank to symbolize the image that is absent from the public, and to question the presentation of political information and images. I believe that Jaar sees the world in the same way that Constantin Guys approached it—he is able “to be away from home and yet feel [himself] everywhere at home, to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world.” Taking a step beyond the work of Bellows and of portraying issues in modernity, Jaar’s pieces are modern in their attempt to wake up the viewer from our technological world that is “convoluted” with excessive information, as Paul articulated, and open our eyes to harsh reality.

Jaar focuses on the public’s desensitization to images by commenting on political corruption, genocides, poverty and more through photos, videos, and installation art. In his lecture, Jaar shared that context means everything in his work—he refuses to begin a project until he fully understands the culture, environment, and people surrounding it. Just as Guys soaked in the world around him and observed what he believed to be beautiful before putting pen to paper, Jaar travels around the world, does months of research, interviews the people in the community that his projects are based, and does not move forward with a piece until he fully grasps the context. This exhaustive research cannot be expressed through paintings or drawings like Bellows and Guys—Jaar tailors his materials to fit his understanding of the community and what it lacks. I think this approach to material is extremely modern in itself. Jaar believes "There's this huge gap between reality and its possible representations. And that gap is impossible to close. So as artists, we must try different strategies for representation.” Part of what makes Jaar’s work so powerful is its focus on reality in the midst of all the meaningless information thrown about through contemporary technology.

Alex DeRosa said...

When reading Baudelaire's essay and thinking about a modern day Constantin Guys, I found myself thinking about technology and the effects the smart phone has had on our society. I agree with Ali in that modern day technology has given anyone and everyone the ability to capture the now. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all have different functions but all capture different people's versions of their "now". The internet is constantly being updated with new videos and pictures.

While not everyone is an artist and many of the objects posted to the internet are not art objects, they are documents of our era. Twenty years from now people will be able to look back at photographs, videos, and tweets uploaded today and get a sense of what the "now" was like.

Technology has given the everyone the power to document their own "now."

DB Dowd said...

Gang:

This discussion is evolving nicely. I'd like to offer a few thoughts to stir the pot.

With the exception of Eden's description of Tomine's New Yorker cover, the conversation has focused on HOW things are being described–mechanisms of documentation–rather than the fundamental problem of WHAT can or should be shown.

Insofar as we are talking about method, I don't think that today's smartphone or yesterday's instamatic camera has replaced journalistic drawing in all respects. The spatial and narrative complexity of onsite reportage drawing require extremely engaged, active sight in certain ways. The very same act also leads to a narrowed view in other respects, because cognitively we cannot see with the mechanical indifference of a device. It's a trade off.

But back to WHAT. So you're the 21st century Guys. Where will you go? In what spot will you plunk yourself down to gain a useful perspective? I don't mean that rhetorically. I mean it concretely. Where will you sit, and what will you draw? Alternatively, if you plan to use a camera–you're shooting footage, you plan to edit–where do you set up your shot? What images or sequences do you need to get?

Yes, technology is a big subject nowadays. But don't be fooled by the presentism that almost always predominates. Other people in other times and places have grooved on, and been baffled by, then-contemporary technologies. Such skepticism may be useful in thinking about what persists, versus what's uniquely, supremely of the moment. It's possible that some of the images accompanying this post will be of help in thinking through that.

Make no mistake, there's some good stuff here. Does anybody care to buttress or rebut Danielle's argument about Alfredo Jaar? Katie, Paul and Jisoo all betray some skepticism of, even impatience with, our technophilia and cheap documentaries. Ali and Alex are describing real conditions, and are unapologetic about the benefits. A good mix.

Others?

Matt B said...

I really appreciate what Katie said, and will try not to repeat any of her insightful points.

Often, the contemporary family has a "family dinner". The father is glued to his Blackberry checking business emails. The mom is texting her friends about the upcoming Bloomingdale's sale. The daughter is Instagramming her dessert. The son is checking ESPN for scores.

The family members may be documenting the moment in a manner that has unfortunately become a societal norm. However, is that moment even worth recording? They speak little and are too aloof to notice their food is getting cold. The fear of an "unreported moment", as Katie describes, is threatening our ability to interact and form relevant memories.

Evidence of past experiences should not be chronicled by Snapchat Stories or Facebook Timelines. A person's memories should be documented through simply being present in a moment and taking in everything around him or her. A memory may lack the ability capture every single detail in a physical medium, yet it preserves the most essential qualities of a given person's experience.

Haley Elliott said...

In response too the "half-and-half" formula idea of half of art being rooted in something ancient and half being modernity. I would argue that the immutable part of this pairing is the basic form that the picture would take. Compositionally, there are some guidelines that seem to be followed. All of the paintings/photographs/illustrations given as examples and all of the comparable works of today are on a basic flat, rectangular format. This may seem rather obvious, but something that was purely modern could very easily take a different form if it wasn't constrained by tradition. I believe that some additional compositional "rules" that seem to be followed (if only intuitively) in past and present art include a diagonal line adding additional interest and an off-centered subject. Baudelaire also points out the sort of "type" of person that is often portrayed including the military man, the dandy, and the woman. These all seem to be subjects of modern, as well as past work. Therefore, the contingent part of art, the part that involves modernity, is more involved in the details of the work. This would involve what the generic subject (woman, dandy) would actually be doing and how they would look. This includes their facial expressed, their stance and the way they seem to interact with others as well as their clothes and the things that are placed around them. These are things that tend to change over time.

I agree with what Paul said in regard to technology including smartphones and Facebook creating an overload of information that then becomes meaningless. However, I am less interested in the physical creation or even display of the image, than what the image actually contains. I think the point that Baudelaire makes about studying the old masters, and how their art was specific to their time is a very interesting one. I thought the point he makes about modern-day beauty being different than past beauty is very relevant as well. He specifically uses the example of a woman. Our standard of slightly too thin, but still curvy bodies, with overdone eye make-up and fake-colored hair would certainly not have been consider beautiful throughout much of history. He also points out the changing “gesture and bearing of the woman” which by simply looking through Facebook one can find several “standard posses” that people seem to take. The “one arm hug, hand on the hip,” “the-close up cheek-touching pic,” “the head tilt,” and of course the “sorority squat” are all very common, and they seem to have the fact that everyone is trying to look like they are having fun in common. These are poses that past women would have never made, so past images would have never recorded. My favorite comparison was about the clothing, fabrics and drapery of the past and that studying the techniques used by the old masters has nothing to do with the way things look today. The style, cut, and fabric of clothing has all changed. Baudelaire mentions the crinoline and muslin of his day, which would be equally unhelpful in trying to depict the jeans, leggings and t-shirts of today.

Becca Christman said...

In response to some of Professor Dowd’s above questions, it is difficult to pin down an exact spot where a present-day Guys would go. As many of you have mentioned before, modern man’s focus is divided between the physical and the digital; it’s hard to go out in public and not see two people sitting together, simultaneously interacting with their phones and with each other. I think restaurants are the best place to observe this phenomenon—restaurants are meant to be gathering places where two of the basest human acts are carried out—socialization and feeding. Instead, if one were to peek into any restaurant today, one would see several tables of people staring at their phones. It sometimes seems as if face-to-face human interaction is secondary to the socialization aspect of the restaurant experience.

A more abstract location to which a modern Guys could go would be a social networking site such as Facebook or Instagram. There was a great quote on a recent episode of HBO’s “Girls” in which a character admits that she gathered her friends to “prove to everyone via Instagram that [they] can still have fun as a group." Social media has become a place to gather with friends as well as build and maintain relationships and reputations without the burden of human interaction. This digitized society that social media has built is really no different than the world Guys saw, except the former is much less palpable.

Nancy Landaverde said...

I agree with everyone’s comments so far regarding technology and how engrained it has become in our society. But as I began to think about WHAT should be shown, I realized that the conversation about technology leaves out much of what makes us human. Yes, many people stare at their screens longer than is necessary, but a part of me feels like simply documenting this type of society doesn’t do the “now” justice.

Someone that immediately came to mind is Brandon Stanton, photographer and creator of the blog “Humans of New York.” He asks people he meets on the street for a photograph and asks them a personal question. This man has captured over 6,000 (probably much more now) snippets of what is going on in the “now.” And he does this simply by walking the streets of New York and talking to people. I am an enthusiastic follower of his blog, and I have noticed that a recurring comment is one along the lines of “Wow, these people seem to be more interesting than I am, or the people I interact with.” And the typical response to that is “Everyone has an amazing story worth sharing…we just need to ask.” The stories that Stanton posts range from people dealing with poverty, divorce, accomplishments, illnesses, loss, bad grades, good grades, heartbreak, love, and so much more. He tends to ask the same questions over and over, yet the diversity in responses is heartwarming. Followers of the blog, including myself, get attached to complete strangers because sharing a story is a powerful means of communication. I’ve found that it really does not matter how complex or life-changing the story, the fact that the person shared it makes it so meaningful.

Getting back to the point of this post, I believe that what should be captured does not require much movement or even thought about WHERE to go to get a useful perspective. Literally, just talk to anybody who walks by you and you get a snapshot of what it means to be a human in the 21st century. There is no formula for what that entails. The essence of what the “now” is is a result of the everyday stories that people have to share.

Maggie Edelman said...

In response to Professor Dowd's question about a place where a modern day Guys would sit and draw, I think I can see him sitting in an airport. This is my favorite place to sketch and take in the world around me. Not only are the people in these places visually interesting but they also each have a story to tell. The tidbits of conversation that can be caught while walking through a terminal can create an amazing story.
Every style of modern "costume" can be found here. Different forms of language can be heard while in line for the restroom of talking the the man sitting beside you on the plane. Every age group is present weather interacting as a family or traveling alone. The most interesting thing to me though is seeing how people from different backgrounds interact with each other. This is where I see modern society having the greatest presence.
Technology also plays a role in this setting as kids play on smartphones and the older generation struggled to jam their 600 page novel into their carry on. The way these weary travelers use the technology to entertain themselves is a large part of modern life.

Casey Merber said...

I think Becca brought up a very interesting aspect to this conversation by bringing up the Humans of New York blog. I would like to further elaborate on that as well as Professor Dowd's request to discuss the "WHAT," focusing on what is important to capture in our modern world.

Everyone is discussing the influx of technology in our modern society...smart phones, social media etc. I think this is a superficial analysis; we are all well aware that technology dominates our lives. I think it is important to analyze how that technology shapes our understanding of the world rather just the fact that it is merely present in our lives. There is no denying that people flood Facebook and Instagram with pointless images. As users of this social media, every time we sign on we are being subjected to repetitive, meaningless images that give us a worthless view of the modern world, a view that makes us discuss technology in this negative light on our modern society.

However, when the presence of social media is correctly utilized for its benefits, our society gets something like Humans of New York. This blog is not documenting worthless images. As previously mentioned, this blog gives different perspectives of the world. Stanton uses his photographs as an eye-opener. He is using social media to show people that the world is much larger than the micro-society you see in your news feed. It is kind of ironic that he is using social media to broaden views of the world that are clouded by social media itself. It is very easy to stare at your screen and take in all the pictures and statuses regarding the WashU bubble. In contrast, it is almost humbling to get such a splash of diversity that Humans of New York brings...reminders that not everyone is as fortunately to be in college...there are people suffering in our world.

I think instead of letting technology gain such a poor reputation in this discussion, it is important to remember who is using it and what effects that has. Yes, the majority of Average Joes in America are clogging it with clutter, however, the few significant people that reap its benefits give our modern world a unique, refreshed documentation.

Missy Quick said...

Guys would notice is the integration of the ‘other’ in our customs, speech and fashion as time wears on. ‘Other’ can be any initially small movement, like the hipster, that is eventually integrated into our everyday culture. There is always an idiom, or a manner of dressing that were mocked or considered shocking, but they become everyday quickly with technology’s ability to constantly expose and familiarize that subject. It quickly integrates itself into the social fabric and experiences of our everyday life.

In terms of what or how a contemporary Guys would choose to draw, I agree with Maggie that sketching in airports gives a sense of how people from all walks of life interact. I would also explore any public space, like a supermarket or a mall, where social boundaries don’t inhibit the variety of people that you find.
With the huge amount of photos and movies and information that streams in from smartphones, the true ‘moments’ in time are hard to capture. I think that the pictures that actually define a moment, or count as a viewer ‘immersing’ himself in the world are candids. A real candid, one that you can look back on and see the moment when people are not consciously putting up a fa├žade about their feelings, informs you about their setting and how they interact with it. This is the same type of subject that Guys tries to illustrate. Since the subject doesn’t know that they are being viewed, you see a moment when they are reacting to their ephemeral surroundings.

Dante said...

I found it very appropriate that you chose to show us works from William Eggleston in the blog posting on this particular article, as he was the artist who immediately came to mind not only when reading the question, but also when reading the Baudelaire piece. As an artist working entirely in the realm of the everyday, the photographs he takes in rural and urban America are exploring the "beauty" that Baudelaire was quick to refer to quite often. The photographs represent the reasonable evolution of the standard of everyday beauty that Baudelaire again refers to. However, I would posit that while he does represent a new Constantin Guys, and certainly informs my understanding of what the contemporary Guys would see, Eggleston is not the contemporary Guys, and as such his photography doesn't represent the "what" of Guys either. As far as "what" and "where", I would say the answer isn't so simple as a single place or time. But if I had to choose a single place, and a single time in relation to my life, I'd say the center of Cherokee Street in St. Louis. Or for that matter, any newly gentrified neighborhood. The intersection of technology and irony with the poverty that is a constant reality of human existence is the setting of the modern-day Guys. No matter how we understand technology's role in our lives, it has always had the same role, as evidenced in our classes, since before the lithograph. Each successive generation will have a new technology to work with, something easier to document our lives, but as for what we must document, that is unchanging. Guys chose the urban landscape due to its importance as the epicenter of modernity, and that remains unchanged in the present day. The appeal of a neighborhood in the process of gentrification is the cross-section of generational poverty and the burgeoning middle class as it migrates toward the new trendy area. The costume is as Ali described above, but coupled with the trappings of poverty as well. In order to understand the modern-day Guys, we must also understand the reality of the inequalities we face, and technology has never seemed to have a big enough impact on that.

Juliet said...

In the 21st century, the fundamental problem of what can or should be shown is interesting. As everyone has mentioned so far, technology plays a major role in how things are recorded. However, technology has also greatly affected what can be shown. With the Internet, the world has become more interconnected and things that you would never be able to see with your own eyes become viewable. Yes, there are many meaningless self-portraits, but there are also powerful images like the pictures of the riots in Ukraine. Technology is no longer a simple physical entity as it was in the past. It is now also tool through which people can explore other people’s “now.”

Christine Lee said...

Today's networking systems like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram are designed to document your day to day life. Before Facebook's design was modified one's wall was like a stack up of your activities, postings, and pictures, in chronological order. Now it's a timeline that documents your life from your birthday to the present.

Like many have commented above, I strongly agree that emergence of smartphones was an immense turn in our time. The change from 2G to 3G made a tremendous change. Instant updates on social networks were enabled. Just three years ago, I remember typing korean as it sounds in English when texting my Korean friends because there was no such thing as multiple language options. I remember using international prepaid card to call my parents in Korea using my cell phone. Smartphones changed everything. It allowed me to instant message my parents with no cost wherever I have service.

I would say because of this gargantuan advancement in technology, especially in devices highly designed to capture any moments in high quality, like smartphones and cameras, we are able to capture "now" more instantaneously and accurately. In "The Painter of Modern Life," moments were "reborn" by Monsieur G. however, in ways that were "more than natural and more than beautiful." The "now" captured by Monsieur G. were somewhat beautified and idealized. Was it because it had to be done in paint and because it was not as accurate and easy to capture compared to now? I thought it was intriguing to see how captured moments are made more beautiful both in the "modern" world back then and now. Yet, because it was not as easy and not many could capture the "now" accurately back then, idealizations in Monsieur G.'s work seem like a form of escaping the vast changes, including technological changes, and its ugliness in reality. On the other hand, for me, it feels like beautification using filters and photoshops in documentation of "now" today is used as a positive advantage, rather than as means of expressing the negative responses from the changes happening around.

Fisher said...

Responding to what Nancy said about Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind Humans of New York, I believe that the Constantin Guys of our time would be greatly influenced by the pace and the culture of the modern city, in combination with the infinite numbers of subcultures and characters that populate it. One of the other things that comes to mind, especially because of Stanton, is the documentary (currently on Netflix!) Bill Cunningham New York, which is focused mostly on Cunningham’s amazing career trajectory, as well as this bizarre and phenomenal interlocking puzzle of trends in fashion, kind of patchwork and documentary, with the movement of the city inherent within.

I agree with Maggie in that the modern day Guys might visit an airport to gain some perspective; places of mass transit are the best places to people watch, and drawings of lots of people in a space, all going different ways at the same time (at a speed which might astound anyone from a previous time) can be highly experiential for the viewer. The contemporary illustrator should work to find people distinctive of our time, our customs; I’m very biased toward portraiture in that sense, that I believe biographical images to be the most powerful. Richard Avedon style, driving around the country and placing people in front of a white screen, highly dynamic, highly individualized, but also incredibly isolated, which reflects current anxieties about the effects of social media and other technological advances (many have mentioned it).

I, personally, would take photographs of sports, professional hockey and basketball, but also like, small town baseball games or six-man football brimming with Americana (like Laura Wilson in Grit and Glory) and children playing with a dirty soccer ball; I think the culture surrounding modern sports might baffle everyone not in our era and it seems like a very reflexive cultural measurement.