Where the Hell Have You Been?

 

I know. I took off with barely a word. Made some bullshit excuse about having to go be some artist somewhere.

I’m sorry. Really I am.

And I don’t blame you for giving me that cold stare, walking back in here the way I’ve done. You’ve got a right to be pissed. I get that. I understand.

Let me just tell you a bit about where I’ve been… what I’ve been doing, alright? I’m just gonna take a seat…’s that okay?

So, like I said, I had to go and be M. D. Jackson for a while. I had to be an artist and the work I was doing was unexpected and intense. You know how I get when I’m working. I have to concentrate and focus. And this was done in (digital) pen and ink. You know how exacting that kind of work is, don’t you?

What was I working on? Well, there’s this anthology coming out from Airship 27 Publishing. It’s an anthology about Sinbad… you know… the sailor, not the comedian. I had to do twelve illustrations. Then I suddenly had to do three more. No, don’t ask me why, I can’t really say. But, you know what? As intense as the work was, it was fun!

No, I can’t show them to you. No, really, that’s not for me to do. That’s up to the publisher…

Well, maybe just a peek…

Sinbad_SneekPeek

Good stuff, right?

Yeah, so, what else have I been up to? Well, I saw Deadpool. Loved it. I also saw the Coen Brothers’ latest flick, Hail, Caesar. I liked that, too! It had a real nifty “Old Hollywood” atmosphere and the Coen Brothers’ usual brand of humor and a fantastic cast. I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise.

Right now, though. I picked up a bit of a cough, which is why I sound like Lou Rawls or Barry White. And I’m a bit tired.

You know I missed you. Kept thinking about you the whole time I was gone. No, really! Couldn’t get you off my mind.

Hey, there’s a smile! You really are the best, you know? I don’t know why I go away when you are just so darn fabulous. I won’t do it again. I promise.

So… is there any food in the place? I’m starving! Any chance of you fixing me a sandwich? We can cuddle on the couch afterwards? Maybe we could put on some music, huh?

 

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Resistance of the New

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(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.

…ARE YOU WARM, ARE YOU REAL, MONA LISA?

This is the Islesworth Mona Lisa.

For anyone with even a passing familiarity with DaVinci’s masterpiece it is obvious that this is not the portrait that currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. For one, the woman is much younger than the iconic Mona Lisa of DaVinci. There are other differences as well. The canvas is wider and we can see more of the framing pillars behind the figure. The background is different.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa was discovered just before World War 1 by an art collector named Hugh Blaker in the home of a Somerset nobleman. Blaker bought the painting and took it to his studio in Isleworth, London, from which it takes its name.

Now, the appearance of a Mona Lisa is not that unusual. Many have painted copies of DaVinci’s portrait. It is one of the most reproduced images in the world, after all. But there is a twist.

Blaker knew that Leonardo had started to paint Mona Lisa in 1503, but “left it unfinished”. This is recounted by Leonardo’s early biographer Giorgio Vasari. However, a fully finished painting of a “certain Florentine lady” surfaces again in 1517, shortly before Leonardo’s death and in his private possession. The latter painting almost certainly is the same that now hangs in the Louvre.

So what happened to the earlier attempt? Well, Blaker figured that the Isleworth Mona Lisa was that earlier attempt. He and other supporters claimed it to be the unfinished Mona Lisa, made at least partially by Leonardo and originally handed over to its commissioner. That would mean that the Louvre Mona Lisa was a later version of the portrait made by Leonardo for his own use.

The Isleworth painting has changed hands a few times between then and now. It is currently owned by a Zurich group calling itself the Mona Lisa Foundation. They unveiled the painting recently and reiterated the claim that it is an earlier DaVinci version of the Mona Lisa portrait.

That claim, unsurprisingly, has provoked a number of reactions in the art world. Some have come forward to denounce the Isleworth painting as a forgery.

So what are we to make of this younger and prettier Mona Lisa? Is it an authentic Mona Lisa? Should it replace the portrait hanging in the Louvre? Wouldn’t that be an appropriate comment on the age in which we live? The older, mature face gets replaced by one younger and prettier. That would be a sad story.

But here’s a better story, and maybe a sadder one. Did Leonardo DaVinci fall in love with the young, pretty wife of Francesco del Giocondo when he was commissioned to paint her portrait? He would have been 51 in 1503 when Lisa Gherardini sat for him. She would have been 24 years old, a young wife, making a home with her wealthy cloth merchant husband, their second child newly born.

Was the old painter sentimental enough to fall in love with her lovely smile? The smile is certainly more evident in this earlier portrait. Did it haunt him through the years? Did young Lisa’s face stay in his mind, aging gracefully in DaVinci’s imagination until he was compelled to commit her likeness to canvas once more years later, older, sadder perhaps, with an enigmatic smile? Did he paint it from memory or did she sit for him again, one more time, years later — just for him this time?

Did he know he was painting his masterpiece?

The later portrait, the one in the Louvre, was called by DaVinci “La Giaconda”, which means “The Jocular One” A pun, perhaps? A play on the name Giocondo? Or was DaVinci obfuscating to hide the fact that he had the portrait of another man’s wife in his possession? Was it love that compelled Davinci to paint La Giaconda? Was it a great and unfulfilled love that immortalized a young Florentine woman to the point that she is now arguably one of the most recognized faces in history?

We will never know, of course. This is just a story. But it is an appealing idea, isn’t it? That it was love — not money, or vanity, or the lust for fame or power — but love that was responsible for the most famous painting in the world.

 

A LESSON IN SUSPENSE

Portrait of Madame X, painted in 1884, is the informal title of a portrait by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. Madame Gautreau was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities.

As it was originally painted the portrait caused a scandal because of one shoulder strap that was off the subject’s shoulder. The portrait, which, you must remember, was merely canvas and paint, was the cause of much consternation among Paris society. There were calls for Sargent to remove the painting from the exhibition.

Imagine crowds of young Parisian men gathered around the canvas in breathless anticipation of the moment when gravity does it’s thing and causes Madame X’s dress to fall to the floor. Of the painting one critic wrote: “One more struggle and the lady will be free”. It is sexual titillation at it’s most piquant and it all happens in the mind of the viewer.

Above you see the painting as it was repainted by Sargent with the strap back in its safer position. Here a photo shows the painting as it hung at the salon of ’84 with the strap off her shoulder:


With Sargent repainting the strap, he successfully took much of the sting out of the painting.

To see how the painting might have looked, take a look at an altered image done by Mike Pieczonka:

To me, the whole incident is amazing and shows just how powerful a painting can be. How provocative are these images made up of an arrangement of pigments! In and of itself the object is harmless, yet what it depicts enflames desire or outrage. Whether it is a Sargent portrait or a controversial comic in a French newspaper, images have amazing power.

And yet, as Robert Crumb observed almost 100 years later “It’s only lines on paper, folks!”.

Lines on paper, words on a page, yet so full of power.