cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM and BOOK The Master and Margarita {Master i Margarita – Director: Vladimir Bortko [2005] }

A pleasing, chance find in an Oxfam bookshop: a hardback copy in good condition, with flyleaf only slightly torn, of Michael Glenny’s 1967 English translation* of The Master and Margarita. Read about Mikhael Bulgakov many years ago. Settling down to read it, chuckling pretty soon, I was surprised what it was: not at all as heavy going as imagined.

Also watching the 2005 10 part Russian TV Mini-series which is currently on YouTube in 50 parts, making sure – of course! – not to get past the book in the film. Fascinating how Bortko has managed to translate the book into film, though many have pointed out how much easier it is when you have 10 hours to play with.

In the scene in the film where Ivan is questioned by Prof. Stravinsky, the psychiatrist says “Sic transit gloria mundi”, which in the Glenny chapter (8) is:

‘They’ve got it all sewn up,’ thought Ivan. The man in charge ran a practiced eye over the sheet of paper, muttered ‘Mm’hh’ and exchanged a few words with his colleagues in a strange language. ‘And he speaks Latin too – like Pilate.’ mused Ivan sadly.

In the film he says “Sic….”, turning to four minions standing behind him arranged along the wall, who nod to each other knowingly. What puzzles me is why of all the Latin they could have used they chose that for the script – because no actual Latin is quoted in the scene in the book. Maybe not so much puzzled as amused by the minds of scriptwriters and directors…. I’ll not spoil your enjoyment of the book by going into chapter and verse. Buy the book and read it. Try not to read around it too much before settling down to enjoy it. There is a lot online about the story. Better to read first and study after, I think.

If you have decided against reading the book, or that it is not in your Must Read List 2010, by all means try Jan Vanhelleont’s website Master and Margaita, which will answer all possible questions on the subject without having to turn a single page of the book. But more fun and a more lasting impression can be had by reading the book first, and answering the questions afterwards. Chose your translation carefully. It appears from reading the wiki entry on the novel, that there are translations and there are translations.

The M and M website links to two English translations in e-book:

[1] 1967 Glenny translation
* According to Olga Gurevich, this translation is based on a censored version of the novel.
[2] A 1997 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, with extensive notes by Pevear.

There are a few typos in the online version of the latter.

December 24, 2009 Posted by | film [its techniques], Master and Margarita, Mikhael Bulgakov, Richard Pevear, Vladimir Bortko | Leave a comment

ART Eugenie Scrase’s Trunkated Trunk

BBC TV 4-Part series, School of Saatchi.

The winner was Eugenie Scrase, with Trunkated Trunk.

In the first programme she introduced herself with a previous work consisting of a whistle attached by a short string to a towel rail. No one dare say it quite but she was clearly taking the piss*. It becomes how well an artist can keep a straight face while spieling more than anything else, nowadays, it seems.

*SEE He was taking the piss by Patrick West, NewStatesman 13 December 2004, a short piece on Duchamp’s Fountain on it being declared by a 2004 panel of art experts the most influential piece of modern art.

School of Saatchi: Episode 4 (final) (Blog: Arts in the right place)

My late entry for School of Saatchi:

Theory of Art 1.7

was created unconsciously/doodlingly while discussing**  Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain in connection with the  final part of  the TV programme School of Saatchi. The set up took 1 minute ( forgot to clean the specs…though the dirty lenses may be deemed significant in some way), the photograph 1 minute, and the download to PC a further 3 minutes.  Finally, within 10 minutes of ‘conception’,  I used my webcam in Skype to show my art to the person I was discussing Duchamp with.

If we tease out what can be called art – using the minds of philosophers as much as artists and art historians  – one of the first elements tp clear up should be the question, “Is the effort that goes into the art important?”

The time taken to think up and execute a work of art is not important aesthetically. But comparing a monumental sculpture that took a year to finish with a Picasso doodle whipped off in seconds, one usually ends up mentioning the titanic effort involved in the former, and the seemingly minimal effort in the latter, together with the assessment of the art as art.

{** I asserted the urinal was as much art as any other deemed so.  I suddenly saw something I had not thought of before: Duchamp chose an object (he had an almost infinite choice of designed and manufactured items) that would immediately repel but subsequently attract, somewhat akin the two heads/vase visual illusion. The urinal’s proper use (he teases us with a renaming in the title) makes us say first it cannot be art; those who then epoché this inescapable fact of response are able to accept that it is a beautiful object which has been chosen by the artist to demonstrate, in art, the difficultly of defining art.

The problem has been that a whole string of artists from then up to the present day have repeated, mostly less elegantly, what Duchamp did. Maybe they think they are saying something special with their art, but I don’t think for the most part they are: a found object is pretty much a found object in art philosophical terms.}

I wonder how many people see that the urinal is placed on its back and therefore being viewed from above?  Is that artistically significant? Perhaps there was no other way to place it on its pedestal without adding something that would detract from the simple lines of the object.

Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

Wiki: Fountain (Duchamp) mentions Beatrice Woods point:

Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

Now that a lot more psychological-cognitive-neurological science has passed under the bridge this doesn’t quite seem so on the point. The urinal really is more like a visual illusion, flickering in our perception between what it is and what the artist is asking us to see it as (complicated by Duchamp using it as as an essay on What is art? at the same time) as well as playing games with the “R.Mutt  1917”).

The length of time it takes to produce what the artist is intent on producing shouldn’t have any bearing on its artistic quality. Though some artists take forever to finish a single painting – I particularly like the palimsest school: those who repeatedly paint, scrap off the paint and paint again – something found on the beach slipped in the pocket and later presented as art

is as much art as the skillfully painted painting, sculpted sculpture or film installation. That might be said to be because it is the finished object which is presented to us that counts. No sensible artist would present a half-finished painting or an incomplete installation.

The Standford Enclyclopedia of Philosophy has a comprehensive entry on The Definition of Art that begins:

The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy. Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy. The philosophical usefulness of a definition of art has also been debated.

One of its suggestions is that:

…the phenomena of art are, by their nature, too diverse to admit of the unification that a satisfactory definition strives for, or that a definition of art, were there to be such a thing, would exert a stifling influence on artistic creativity.

[SEE section 3. Skepticism about defintions]

I wonder if art students read such things, or even a dictionary definition of art.  If art students and artists do not philosophise about art….

The artist Michael Newberry


includes a set of aesthetic commentaries by various authors.

There is a link to a YouTube of  his A Manifesto.

In his essay Aesthetic Commentary: Post-Postmodern Art,  philosopher Stephen R. C. Hicks,   writes:

The art world had reached a dead end. When it looked out at the world through the eyes of Picasso and Munch, it saw nothing of value. When it looked at what the reductionists had produced, it saw that nothing uniquely artistic had survived. Collectively, the leading members of the art world had decided that art has no content, that it has no special media or techniques, and that the artist has no crucial role in the process. Art became nothing – or a statement of nothingness.

The summary conclusion was announced, infamously, by Marcel Duchamp.

Asked to submit something for display in 1917, Duchamp sent a urinal. Duchamp of course knew the history of art. He knew what had been achieved – how over the centuries art had been a powerful vehicle that called upon the highest development of the human creative vision and demanded exacting technical skill; and he knew that art had an awesome power to exalt the senses, the minds, and the passions of those who experience it. Duchamp reflected on the history of art and decided to make a statement. The artist is not a great creator – Duchamp went shopping at a plumbing store. The artwork is not a special object – it was mass-produced in a factory. The experience of art is not exciting and ennobling – at best it is puzzling and mostly leaves one with a sense of distaste. But over and above that, Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on.

Hicks then continues in the next paragraph:

Art by its nature is about the significant. To the extent that art is an expression of the artist’s being, it expresses what the artist thinks and feels to be significant. To the extent that art is an act of communication, it is a statement to an audience of what the artist thinks and feels to be important. When an artist decides to devote a week, a month, or a year or more of his life to creating This rather than That – he is saying that This is worth his time and effort. When the artist presents the results of his efforts to an audience, he is telling them that his creation is worthy of the time and effort of their contemplation. We do not waste our time on the insignificant or ask others to waste theirs – unless we wish to express the significant belief that nothing is significant.

Other sources

The Richard Mutt case: looking for Marcel Duchamps’ Fountain

December 16, 2009 Posted by | art, Duchamp | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

VIDEO – YouTube

That such a great innovation should be so basically presented is still a mystery to me. A few tweaks and there could be a wonderful visually pleasing format. That no one has set up a blog to complain about the design on YouTube is even more mysterious.

To say YouTube offers up so much and allows so many to express themselves in whatever way they want would be superfluous. Here’s one on Hewitt’s Prelude & Fugue No. 22 in B-Flat Minor BWV 891. But note the comments below it. Often these are from people who know nothing about the subject of the video they have just watched but who clearly are after their 15 megabytes of fame (as per Andy Warhol’s 15 mins.)

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Internet, Web | , | Leave a comment