Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community

input/output: art and technology

Walter Isaacson – Leonardo Da Vinci


In addition to this biography on Leonardo Da Vinci, Professor Isaacson has written biographies on Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger. This book provides a generous amount of illustrations and shows how Leonardo Da Vinci used drawing to explore the relationship between art and science and solve problems.

Da Vinci spent a large portion of his career contributing to the arts and entertainment of the Milanese court of Duke Ludovico Sforzo. Da Vinci also dreamed big. He presented drawings of war machines to the Duke and boasted that these devices would defeat Ludovico’s enemies on the battlefield and ensure his reign. In 2011 PBS made a documentary on Da Vinci and attempted to build some of the machines depicted in his drawings only to find that devices such as the 50 ft crossbow, didn’t actually work. I have found in my own studio practice that drawings cannot help you anticipate all logistical problems. You have to build physical models.

Prof. Isaacson includes a chapter on the controvertial “Salvator Mundi” painting attributed to Da Vinci. After presenting arguments from both sides the author takes the approach that the painting was, in fact, painted by Da Vinci. Despite the analysis of materials and technique, I find it hard to accept that this image was painted by Da Vinci because of the frontal, stagnant pose and the incorrect depiction of the crystal ball in Jesus’ hand.

Juliet Aristides – Lessons in Classical Drawing and Classical Painting Atelier


I have been reading these books to help me improve my drawing and painting syllabi. The curriculum outlined herein emphasizes copying master works and working from life. Aristides’ approach focuses on measuring, sighting and shadow mapping. I have seen a huge improvement in my students’ work since I began incorporating these concepts into my teaching. Through doing the exercises I have also become a better artist and observer.

Studying academic approaches to drawing and painting has made me want to open my own art academy. I would call it the Mateo Karracci Classical Atelier since Mateo Karracci sounds like an Italian version of Matthew Krawcheck. I would publish a companion textbook called Cross Hatching and What Not.

Rackstraw Downes  “Turning the Head in Empirical Space”


Rackstraw Downes, “Presidio: In the Sand Hills Looking West with ATV Tracks & Cell Tower,” 2012. Oil on canvas, 161/2 × 64.

I have admired Rackstraw Downes’ work since I was a sophomore at KCAI in the early 2000s. Downes creates meticulously detailed landscape paintings through months and sometimes years of plein air sessions. His wide-angle compositions extend up to ten times wider than they are tall. Downes is one of my favorite artists because of his unique use of perspective.

Rackstraw Downes began his art career as an abstract painter in the 60’s. One day he decided to paint a landscape. In composing a wide-angle view of mountains and trees he ran up against the challenge of how to connect one end of the painting to the other. Downes spent the next five decades exploring the subject of curvilinear/wide-angle perspective. Holding a degree in English Literature, in addition to an MFA in painting, Downes is an excellent writer as well a brilliant artist.

In this essay Downes takes his readers through the history of wide-angle perspective from the 1400s to the present and shares his own journey as a panoramic painter. Downes explores how artists as diverse as Jean Fouquet, Felice Beato and David Hockney address problems like the “curved horizon line” and the challenge of having multiple viewpoints within the same image. Downes explains how he has addressed these challenges in his own paintings and provides a generous amount of reproductions to illustrate his concepts.

Studying Downes’ art and writing has inspired me to paint panoramic views and to delve into the study of artistic perspective.

Based on my own studies of perspective I have created the following art joke to share with my students.

You know you’re an artist when your friends get the Domino’s Deep Dish, but you try to order Filippo’s Pizza del Duomo….because the Piazza del Duomo is where Filippo Brunelleschi did his famous perspective experiment. The pizza guy says “that’ll be $15.99” and you reply “Nope! Its 1425.”

Kentaro Toyama – Geek Heresy


There is an abundance of educational material that teaches us how to use the Digital. This book is unique because it explores the effects that the Digital is having on us. Prof. Kentaro Toyama PhD is an award-winning computer scientist who has spent a large part of his career working for Silicon Valley. In this book Prof. Toyama explains how he became disillusioned with the Techno Utopian vision that he once shared.

In 2004, at the height of the Digital Utopia fad, Prof. Toyama moved to India to work on Microsoft Research India. Around that time United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan enthusiastically endorsed Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child campaign to provide cheap computers to kids in developing nations. The Techno Utopians felt that throwing Digital into the education system would automatically improve learning. Computerists like Negroponte reasoned that if you put a computer in a poor neighborhood, for example, children would teach themselves how to program software and make spreadsheets. Natural curiosity would lead to self directed learning and that knowledge would propel kids from under-privileged classes into lucrative high-tech careers.  Prof. Toyama observed that many schools in India did not have enough computers for student so the children had to take turns. He experimented with plugging multiple mice into the same desktop so that students could all use the computer at once. This project, known as Multipoint, performed fantastically well in pilot experiments and won awards, but floundered when introduced into the school system. Educators struggled to create lesson plans that incorporated the technology. Frequent power surges fried the machines and Ill-trained faculty and staff couldn’t service the computers when they crashed. One Laptop Per Child met a similar end. Teachers came under pressure to work twice as hard to create lesson plans that used the technology and alternative lesson plans for when the technology failed. Students got distracted playing games the program quickly died. Observing these outcomes inspired Prof. Toyama to rethink the role of the Digital in solving world problems.

This book also gives readers a brief history of Techno Utopianism. Thomas Edison predicted that the motion picture would replace books. He reasoned that viewers retain ALL of what they see in a movie but almost none of what they read in books. Technologists made similar predictions about radio and television and the US government dumped millions of dollars into a program to put TVs in classrooms. Why did Digital Utopians think that computers would be any different? Digital, they reasoned, was special because it is interactive; you don’t just watch it, you engage with it.

Through his studies and experiences the author comes to the realization that technology alone cannot make the world a better place, we also need heart, mind and will. People must have the right intentions and want effect positive change, heart. We need the knowledge and wisdom to understand a problem and envision solutions, mind.  Finally, we need the discipline and cooperation to follow through on a plan of action, will. These three pillars of wisdom, says Prof. Dr. Toyama, help us achieve “intrinsic growth.”

Bill Gates is among those who gave this book favorable reviews.

Word of the Day: Gimcrackery (jim-crack-uh-ree)

Definition: cheap, showy, worthless trifles, trinkets, gadgets, baubles, etc.

In talking and writing about technology I have found the word “gimcrackery” useful because it cuts through the superficial distinctions we make between our Tomagotchis, Androids, Gameboys and Ipads. “Technology” is the use of science to solve a problem. Masturbatory gadgets that prevent us from paying attention do not deserve to be called technology.

As an instructor I have found it much more efficient to tell students to “Stop stroking your gimcrack!”, than to instruct the class to “Please refrain from operating touch-screen pocket devices.”

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2018 by in News, Visual Artists and tagged , , .

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