Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Death Of Print, Designer Groceries, and the Flat Portrait

Are you ready for a super long post? (No? Check in tomorrow and I promise to keep it sweet!)

Friends, no matter how you spin it, it is impossible to ignore the demise of print media these days. Forget the ancient practice of communicating via the written word (think snail mail letter), we now also get the bulk of our news, entertainment and inspiration online. Brittany Watson of The House that Lars Built explores the way in which the design world in particular is impacted by the shift from printed magazine to blogs and other online resources. Her masters thesis project for the Corcoran College of Art and Design draws information from a series of questions which she posted on this subject. (The whole thing is brilliant and you should really go check it out for yourself.)
What struck me most about this project was that while most people appreciate the plethora of inspiration made available by the growing digital design world, many also agree that nothing beats a good design magazine. In other words, while it's comforting to know that there is a heck of a lot of information available when one wants to source it, what one really enjoys is a curated experience.

...which brings me to the subject of the boutique grocery store. Sure Costco may have the cheapest deals in town, and Walmart is going organic, but it just feels so much more satisfying to select your rainbow chard from the among the carefully arranged bunches at, say, your neighborhood Whole Foods. (That is if you can't pick it yourself from the closest farmers market or farm itself!) Setting aside the politics of choosing one store over another, what I mean to say is that the more tailored an experience seems to be, the more enjoyable it is. The subtext here being that choices have already been made so that we can be free to enjoy an already edited selection (kind of like the design magazine vs. the bottomless inspiration of the blog world.)

Allie Rizzo by Man Sumarni for FN Magazine Feb 2011
And so we come back to my preference for portraits painted from life vs. from photographs. While it is not impossible to use a photograph merely as a reference, there is a danger in representational work relying too heavily on the information that a photo provides. Artist, Michael Malm, is quoted in American Artist Magazine as rightly noting that "it helps to paint from life...because when (artists) only use photographs they have a tendency to paint every detail the camera records." The resulting painting is one with a ton of information but zero life. Conversely, through the process of simplifying and selecting what to show in a work of art, an artist avoids the flat portrait by acting as communicator of something worthwhile vs. just a recorder of a bunch of random information.


  1. thanks for the shout out Nicole. I'm so glad you talked about this. I think it adds depth to the true artist.

  2. brilliant! I marvel at the way you connect ideas...apparently you hogged that gene :)

    now come over here, and eat some dinner with us (no promises for a tailored experience)

  3. Thank YOU for the interesting study (and fab blog)! Leah, let's be honest, you rock on too many fronts to count!


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