28 February 2017

ART IS NOT DATA

This is an excerpt from my Lecture Heavenly Outlook.



Opinions about art are diverse, strongly held and contradictive. Facing such conflict, many hoist a flag of surrender and say that art is just a matter of personal taste. Some even fly that flag triumphantly. They heatedly argue that art is not a thing worth arguing; they insist that nothing about art is objectively true except its objective lack of objective truthfulness.

This idea is not entirely new; de gustibus non est disputandum has been uttered for centuries, although I suspect that it has only recently been understood in an absolute sense. I see an error at the start of this line of reasoning: the assumption that in order for a thing to be real (and not just a product of the mind), it must be quantifiable. This is the perhaps the most popular error of modern thinking. At the end of this line of reasoning is a colorless, mechanical view of reality. The Catholic philosopher and physicist Wolfgang Smith described it well:
We are told that [the physical universe] consists of space, time and matter, or of space-time and energy, or perhaps of something else still more abstruse and even less imaginable; but in any case we are told in unequivocal terms what it excludes: as all of us have learnt, the physical universe is said to exclude just about everything which from the ordinary human point of view makes up the world.... What is being bifurcated or cut asunder are the so-called primary and secondary qualities: the things that can be described in mathematical terms, and those that cannot. Logically speaking, the bifurcation postulate is tantamount to the identification of the so-called physical universe (the world as conceived by the physicist) with the real world per se, through the device of relegating all else (all that does not fit this conception) to an ontological limbo, situated outside the world of objectively existent things.... Let it be said at once that this reduction of the world to the categories of physics is not a scientific discovery (as many believe), but a metaphysical assumption that has been built into the theory from the outset.
New technology impresses this way of thinking even more deeply. Computers have it built into their every function, for they actually cannot heed anything unless it is reduced to a number. And technology imparts its bias to its users. To a man with a hammer, the adage goes, everything looks like a nail; to a man with a computer, everything looks like a datum.

The modern mind has acquired the habit of quantifying, sorting and ranking things that are not inherently numerical: beauty, intelligence, friendship, originality, love. This is, to the modern mind, the only way to prove that they are real. Art is recalcitrant to numerical description; hurrah, I say, for art. The criterion of the modern mind does not need to be met; it needs to be dismissed.

My first advice to anyone who wishes to appreciate or make sacred art is not to treat art like data. Do not rate it with stars; do not make top-ten lists. Real appreciation is gotten by paying serious attention to a work of art, just looking at it for a very long time. It is in the looking that communication through art happens.

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Works quoted or referenced:

Wolfgang Smith, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief, (San Raphael CA: Sophia Perennis, 2008).

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, (New York: Vantage Books, 1992).

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www.danielmitsui.com

27 February 2017

MY PLANS for the FUTURE: SUMMULA PICTORIA

DRAWING

I am eager to begin a new, ambitious task, which I hope to complete over the next fourteen years (in which I can be reasonably confident that my eyesight and manual dexterity will endure).

What I intend to draw is an iconographic summary of the Old and New Testaments. While I do not intend to illustrate every single Biblical scene, I do intend to draw those that are most prominent in traditional liturgy and patristic exegesis; were I never to draw them, I would feel my artistic career incomplete. The events described in the Old and New Testaments are the very raw stuff of Christian belief and Christian art; no other subject offers the artist such inexhaustible depth of beauty and symbolism.

While I shall continue to accept commissions for other works, I plan to devote a large portion of my effort to this project. In my mind, I have been calling it Summula Pictoria, a little pictorial summary of Divine Revelation. I want to make it with the spirit of a medieval encyclopedist, who gathers as much patristic wisdom as he can find and faithfully puts it into order.

This will be realized as a series of color drawings on calfskin. My hope is that the pictures of the Summula Pictoria wss three characteristics to make them superior to anything I have yet drawn. Insofar as I am capable, I want to make them:
EXHAUSTIVE: I want their content and arrangement to be faithful to the Biblical text, the patristic commentaries and the artistic tradition. Moreover, I want these pictures to include as much detail from these sources as possible. I want everything included, whether great or small, to be thoroughly considered and significant: the haloes, the faces, the garments, the background architecture, the plants and animals, the stars in the sky. I want their compositions to reflect a proper theology of time and space, light and darkness, sacred numbers and directions.

COLLECTIVELY COHERENT: I want all of these (more than 200) drawings to be realized in a common style and perspective. I want every person, place and thing that appears from picture to picture to be recognizable; St. Thomas the Apostle will always be the same man, and Solomon’s Temple will always be the same building. Because of this coherence, once completed, the Summula Pictoria could be a source for countless derivative works. Its pictures could illustrate a Bible, a Missal, a Book of Hours - or illustrate a series of picture books, a series of board books, a series of coloring books - or serve as models for artwork in other media: vestments or relief carvings or stained glass windows.

and

ALTOGETHER ORIGINAL: The drawings certainly will be influenced by artwork of the past; I defer always to the Fathers in matters of arrangement and disposition. Yet I intend to copy no other work of art directly. The figures - their faces, poses and clothing - will be newly invented. The fabric patterns and architectural ornaments that appear in the pictures, the tile floors and carpets and everything else I shall design myself.
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PREPARATION

Actually completing, or even starting, so ambitious a task will require quite a lot from me, and I expect to spend a year (possibly two) in preparation. Currently, my plans include:
TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENT: Most especially in figure drawing. This is the aspect of my art that I am most eager to make better.

RESEARCH: I have already begun to re-read and take notes upon the Bible, the traditional texts of the sacred liturgy, and the art historical books that have most informed my understanding of Christian iconography. I plan to read also philosophical and theological works by Dionysius, Augustine, John Scotus Eriugena, Honorius of Autun, Hugh of St. Victor, Hildegard of Bingen and Suger of St. Denis, who are my major intellectual influences. Conveniently, several medieval encyclopedias summarize the patristic wisdom regarding typology, liturgiology, sacred mathematics and natural symbolism; inconveniently, most of them have never been translated into English. So I need to improve my Latin comprehension enough to use works like the Glossa Ordinaria, the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum and Rabanus Maurus’s De Universo for reference.

and

FUNDRAISING: Drawing is my livelihood and my means of supporting my family, so I cannot take imprudent risks with my artwork. This project will not be feasible unless I can secure advance patronage for many of the drawings, and sell reliably those that I draw on speculation. The most daunting part of the project is the initial preparation, the time invested time in technical improvement and research.

I now earn my living almost entirely through commissioned work, print sales and book royalties. I have never received grant money, or attempted crowdfunding, subscription services or profit-sharing; I may need to explore some of these. I am hopeful that some of my existing patrons will be as excited about this project as I am, and will help in finding creative ways to make it possible.
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TEACHING

As the idea of the Summula Pictoria became clearer in my mind, I realized that the project needed a second component. Visual expressions of theology and symbolism, no matter how profound or beautiful, are not effective if nobody understands them. The meaning of religious art has become obscure; medieval works that once catechized the unlettered now require written commentary to interpret. Its very strangeness to the modern mind has become part of its appeal, which is not right at all. Christian art is meant to be for everyone.

I intend to use the Summula Pictoria as a tool for instruction. As I research, compose and draw these pictures, I shall make a record of my creative process: sharing my notes and summaries of iconographic sources, displaying drawings in progress, providing models to copy. I hope is that this will be useful to anyone who wants to make religious art, or to understand it. My idea is not to create a scholarly text or a university course; it is to offer, for free, something much more accessible, comparable perhaps to a cookbook in which a restaurant chef shares his recipes.

To this end, I have launched this new web log, in which I shall post my writings about Christian art: its principles, its symbolism and its techniques. I have noticed a real hunger among aspiring artists for sound instruction in these.

I have noticed also a real hunger among parents and teachers for sound instruction about religious art directed to children. My wife and I intend to educate all of our children at home, and spend a considerable amount of time thinking about their artistic formation. We have found fault in almost every homeschooling curriculum’s treatment of art. Thus, a second aim of my new web log will be to provide educational material for children and advice to parents and teachers.

A common feature of this new web log will be the offering of material for free download: patterns that can be printed, traced and copied; coloring sheets for children or adults; games and puzzles and typographic broadsides. All of this free material will be collected on my web page here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

17 February 2017

EYVIND EARLE and SLEEPING BEAUTY

Eyvind Earle has probably influenced my artwork more than any other artist of the past century. This is partly because he has been with me the longest, almost from the beginning, long before I knew his name.

Earle worked for a time for Walt Disney, and oversaw the visual aspect of the 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty film. In no other feature-length film produced by that studio was a single artist given such authority. The magnificently detailed backgrounds were his work; he designed them and oversaw a team of artists who executed them in his signature style. I believe that he painted some part of each of them personally. I consider the background paintings produced for this film to be one of the few masterworks of 20th century medievalism. The Lady and the Unicorn series of millefleur tapestries influenced their design, as did illuminated manuscripts both Gothic and Persian.

Obviously, I did not know all that when I was five years old. I do remember, at that age, seeing something special in that film. It was my favorite, and I did not watch it passively. I watched it, and I drew. By the final scene, I had filled sheets and sheets of paper with pencil drawings of heraldic banners, knights in armor, goblins and castles.

Now, as an adult, I must confess a really deep contempt for the Disney Corporation. It was one of the first corporations to direct marketing and advertising to children, and set the heinous example for others to follow. It ruined, in the imaginations of millions of children, truly wonderful and dignified works of literature by Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne and others. I try to keep my own children away from most of its products and characters.

But that certainly does not negate the talent of certain artists who worked for it, Eyvind Earle and Kay Nielsen especially. Sleeping Beauty left an indelible mark on my artistry. I suppose that if the Disney Corporation were to approve the publication of a big coffee-table book with fold-out reproductions of those painted backgrounds, I would buy it, pore over it endlessly, and never watch the film again. But until that happens, the only way to see those wonderful paintings is to watch the motion picture.

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www.danielmitsui.com

16 February 2017

GAMES and PUZZLES: MAZE

This maze was originally designed for a bookplate. The original drawing is available for sale here. Letterpress universal bookplates with the same design are available for sale here. This free, oversized printout can be downloaded by clicking the image below; the file is formatted as a 300dpi bitmap image on an 8 1/2" × 11" page that can be printed and photocopied.



See this web page for more free downloads.
I hold the copyright to this images, and I permit the file to be downloaded, printed and copied only for personal, nonprofit use. Printed copies must be distributed for free. If you want to use the image in any other way, you must first receive my permission. Posting the image to a web log or sharing it on a social medium is encouraged so long as it links back to my web page.

I do not charge for downloading the file. However, a donation is suggested. This should be proportionate to the number of files downloaded and the number of copies made of them.



If you are unable to make a donation, I ask that you at least subscribe to my newsletter by e-mailing danielmitsuiartist at gmail dot com.
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www.danielmitsui.com

15 February 2017

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY



I was born in Georgia, USA, in 1982, and raised in Illinois. I attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH from 2000 to 2004, where I studied drawing, oil painting, etching, lithography, wood carving, bookbinding and film animation.

Meticulously detailed ink drawing on calfskin vellum is my specialty. Since my baptism into the Catholic Church in 2004, most of my artwork has been religious in subject. In my work, I attempt to be faithful to the Second Nicene Council’s instruction that the composition of religious imagery is not the painter’s invention, but is approved by the law and tradition of the Catholic Church.

Seeing in the art of the Middle Ages a faithful and vigorous expression of that tradition, I draw much of my inspiration from Gothic illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings and tapestries. I am especially interested in the principles of typology, natural symbolism and sacred mathematics governing this art, and hope to demonstrate their universal and continued relevance.

One of my most prestigious projects was completed in 2011, when the Vatican commissioned me to illustrate a new edition of the Roman Pontifical. In 2012, I established Millefleur Press, an imprint for publishing broadsides inspired by the work of 15th century printers. I am a prolific designer of custom bookplates.

I live near Chicago with my wife Michelle (a classical singer) and our four children. More of my work can be seen at www.danielmitsui.com. I am currently accepting commissions.