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Monday, July 18, 2016

Art Fails

Copyright, Jim Lane
Treed, 1970s, Jim Lane
All artists make mistakes. It's all a matter of degree. Some are relatively minor, noticeable only to the artist and a few of his or her more astute (nitpicking) friends. Others, are so colossal they result in what's come to be called a "fail"...and "art fail" in the entire work becomes a failure. I thought it only fair that before I start highlighting the mistakes and fails of others, I should present at least one of my own (above). The painting (above) I called Treed, painted sometime in the mid-1970s. Can you spot the problem? This is the painting with the infamous "disappearing arm." Not only is the figure's lower left arm and hand missing, but that arm's shirtsleeve doesn't match that of the right arm. Was it an art fail or just a couple minor errors? You can decide. I should add, I sold my mistakes decades ago. I wonder if the buyer has ever noticed.

Probably the greatest art fail of all time, Leonardo's Last Supper,
seen here before and after its restoration in 1999.
Even some of the greatest artists to ever drip paint on their studio floors have made errors. In fact, perhaps the most spectacular art fail in the history of art fails was made by none other than Leonardo da Vinci in painting his iconic Last Supper (above). Leonardo's problem was that he was as much interested in developing a new method of fresco painting as he was in his subject matter. Traditional fresco methods always require the artist to use water-based (tempera) paint worked into wet plaster. Leonardo preferred working in oils. So, he tried using the same technique with oil paints (he also was in the habit of working way too slowly for fresco--the plaster dried too fast). Well, any idiot knows oil and water don't mix. If Leonardo didn't know that, he soon learned the facts of life where mixed media are concerned. Within a decade of the mural's completion, the monks of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan were complaining about the paint literally peeling and falling from the wall of their dining hall. Worse, Leonardo was not of a mind to try to fix the problem. Thus, such "restoration" work that has been done on this Renaissance masterpiece of design (if not execution) has been the work of incompetant hacks in no way up to the job. Only in 1999, using modern-day, cutting-edge, tools, techniques, and pigments, has anything like the original work been brought back to life.

Night, de' Medici Tombs, 1526-31, Michelangelo
Another Renaissance master, a certain sculptor named Michelangelo Buonarroti, it's safe to say ranks as the worst sculptor of the female nude...well, in the history of female nudes. His Night (above) from the de' Medici tomb ensemble, has long been used as proof that Michelangelo was gay. Perhaps, but there is much stronger evidence of his gender preference than his "men with breasts" seen in this case (and several others), as well as many of his Sistine ceiling female figures. Add to that the fact that both the figures atop the sarcophagus appear rather precarious--too large for their positions. We won't mention his Moses with horns. Moreover, Michelangelo stands in good company regarding art fails with some modern-day sculptors as seen below. I don't know the individuals sculpted nor the sculptors, but the phrase "What were they thinking?" comes to mind.

I'm guessing the upper figure commemorates the doctor who
invented enemas. As for the kid with the pig...
It's likely some of the most spectacular art fails where drawing is concerned can be found in the popular realm known as "fan art." I'm sure many performers get aching belly-laughs from their fans' horrifying efforts at pencil portraiture (below). A few such efforts probably arrive every day accompanied by adoring letters. My advice to such artists--use the very best photos you can find, take measurements from them or even draw a grid, concentrate on the features first, then on shading and pencil technique. Oh, and one more thing...don't use lined notebook paper.

Most of the faces are too familiar to bear mentioning. The lower right face is
that of the handsome Zayn Malik of the boy band, One Direction.
The drawing doesn't really do him justice.
Art fails also extend to painters, especially beginners taking their first class. In most cases the instructor will set up a relatively simple still-life for the entire group to draw and paint. However, there's always one free spirit, one wildcard in every group who refuses to follow instructions. In the photos below, the question arises, from a creative point of view, which ones constitute the art fails, and which pay tribute to the many outstanding artists of the past who are remembered today because they refused to follow the rules?

The work of the obstinate gentleman at lower-left
certainly makes a clear, forceful, artistic statement.
Sometimes it's most surprising to encounter errors (if not actually art fails) in the work of artists especially known for thoroughly doing their homework and not making mistakes. The late, great, Norman Rockwell was one such artist. Sharp-eyed critics would have to look long and hard to find even a minor error in any of Rockwell's more than 4,000 paintings. However, The Common Touch (below) from the January 18th, 1930 cover of the Saturday Evening Post does contain a barely noticeable error. Can you spot it? The young man with the red shirt has three legs--two straight, one bent, as his right hand rests upon his knee.

The Common Touch, 1930, Norman Rockwell
Although I wouldn't exactly call it an "art fail," one particular painting comes to mind which history experts claim to be chock full of errors. The German painter Emanuel Leutze in painting his famous Washington Crossing the Delaware (below) either didn't do his homework very well, didn't have access to the historical material to even try, or simply didn't care, claiming artistic license in its place. His work has been criticized for everything from the type of boat depicted, Washington's outrageously precarious pose, the time of day (night, actually), even the flag. Mort Kunstler, on the other hand, painting in 2011, had access to history books not even written when Leutze made his effort in 1851. Moreover, Kunstler spent about two months doing the research necessary to make his version as historically accurate as possible. Plans are to lend out the painting for public viewing, which is about 4 feet wide and 3 feet high, a far cry from Leutze's painting, which is about 21 feet wide and 12 feet high. The owner of the painting, Thomas R. Suozzi, a Revolutionary War history buff, declared: “I'm telling you, [Kunstler's] painting will be the one they put in school textbooks one day.”

Which do you prefer, Leutze's heroism, or Kunstler's historical accuracy?
Art fails plague virtually all types of artists. However, if a painter accidentally leaves off an arm or inadvertently paints an extra leg, it often goes unnoticed for years. I once did a portrait in which I gave the sitter six fingers (which did not long go unnoticed). As artists, as well as engineers, architects make mistakes too. The difference is that when an architect screws up, people often die , crushed by his failed work of art. Although the architect of Pisa's famous Leaning Tower is in dispute (as might well be expected, given the circumstances) errors can begin before the first foundation stone is laid and continue even as the architect recognizes a problem and seeks to remedy it, sometimes even compounding the error. The architect can also be blamed for not adequately supervising the construction of what he or she has designed. That's what happened in 2009 with the 14-storey Lotus Riverside apartment tower in Shanghai, China. The construction boom over the past decade in that city has brought to light numerous cases of shoddy construction, but never has such a large building toppled over so neatly (below-bottom). Several like it were built, but fortunately, this one was the only one to tip over. Miraculously only one worker was killed.

I wonder if the Chinese tried to set the building back upright.

When interior designers make mistakes,
people only die of embarrassment.


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