Archive for April, 2006


Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

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Figure 1: Las Meninas oil painting by Velazquez 1656- 1657

When the great painter Knox Martin first saw Velazquez’s Infanta at the Louvre, he was beside himself with joy, as indeed would anyone had he found himself in an ecstatic moment filled with all the wondrous magic that is timeless Beauty! According to the report, Knox was seen ” trembling and exclaiming loudly in expletives and groaning and gesticulating alarmingly” by his French companion… (refer to one of the articles in

Today we are looking at one of the best works by Velazquez, Las Meninas. Viewing a replica of a masterpiece is not the same thing as experiencing the visual pleasure from the real thing. The enormous size of the painting alone can easily overwhelm any viewer, thereby casting upon him a spell of the sublime. However, granted that a page-size replica of the original work has most of its charm dissipated in the said reduction, it is still very much possible to feel the electrifying movements in the master’s original handiwork! You strip bare a painting to its essential “black and white”, even reduce it to a very small version of the original, the major electrifying part always remains faithfully intact. Why? Its Supreme Mathematical Relationship, SMR is at work here. Hence it follows that nothing can be more important in a work of art than the SMR.

Why do our Academia still champion nothing but issues as their last lingering hope for survival from the dawn of Surrealism to the heydays of Post-modernism then?– Endless discourse, thousand of publications, hundreds of seminars, and of course innumerable resources and unsuspecting public fundings and  excessively generous donations,– all squandered in the glorious name of art and civilization!–And the happy clowns in the circus?–the biggest show since the Barnum?–much bigger,– from local Star Tribune Mary A, MCAD Diane M; U of M  J. B. to Columbia U  Arthur D, with his countless offspring, ill-begotten sons of questionable paternity,– much ado about noble nothing!

The answer, my friend, is very simple!Those folks who impose on the world as learned scholars are no more than the blindest Arabs in the tribe lost in a sandstorm,– completely, starkly,irreversibly blind and excessively slow, inert to all things beautiful, noble or poetic!– For that reason, they must, with the utmost urgency, hang onto a work’s narratives or meanings or simply hang themselves! They have to find something to hook onto, right?

Abominable hookers,  parasites, impostors, all!
I have often stressed that the “black and white” in the composition produces the basic electrifying visual magic as seen from Knox’s sublime reaction to it. The compositional “black and white” is the major determining factor for assessing the merits of a painting! Its “Black and white” tells us about the Supreme Mathematical Relationships from which is born the essential poetry in Infanta or Las Meninas.

Nevertheless, it would still be a matter of great fancy to also ask, “What constitutes “charm” in a painting beside the universal appeal derived from its supreme mathematical relationships,–in other words, its compositional metaphors?”
When looking at Art, the public by their viewing habit, generally falls into either one of two categories: They either glance at the art casually, superficially, or they seem to detect things beyond what is truly intended. The viewers in the first instant often succumb to the external charm found in the Art, or about it, hence missing the big picture or everything else that is deemed basic to its beauty; whereas the viewers in the second category tend to intellectualize everything presented to them, thereby inventing in their heads the unwarranted imagination of their own making. Only the Alpha Seers, who can see Art as it is, truly sense its beauty with undiluted pleasure. That was exactly what had caused the crisp awakening in the soul of Alpha Seer Knox upon his viewing of Velazquez’ Infanta. That is the only sensible explanation for his public outcry of blissful self-abandon!

“You are not Knox, how do you know the way he felt at the moment?”–comes the challenge, to which I plan to reply with this precision, ” because I have been in a similar situation, my friend!” We feel satisfied when thirst is quenched or an itch scratched. The thirst or the itch I refer to is of course, spiritual.

One of the many things that the public look for, i.e. those who tend to intellectualize Art, are the meanings in the painting. When I was at MCAD looking at students’ works, I saw piles upon heavy piles of their so-called art homogeneously share a single, wrong-headed focus:the misguided notion that art-making serves the purpose of meanings. From out of that notion their work all seem to follow the pattern that art is expressly for the conveyance of meanings. WRONG! Upon viewing subsequent contemporary art, I found to my horror that there has not been a single inch in the postmodern domains that does not deal with meaning. In other words, the true reason for greatness in a masterpiece like Las Meninas is always doomed to be bypassed as a result of heavy mobilization of imagination on the part of the viewer or through the incessant chatters of a querulous mind! Thus it takes very little to see how seriously astray our postmodern artists and their scholarly allies have been led.

The Alpha Seer is one who is awake to Beauty. Alpha Seers are rare in any period of time.That has been pointed out. The Beta Seers, those who are of outstanding intelligence in any segment of humanity, may also perceive Beauty– enlightenment through the Alpha Seers. The entire seeing process can be as simple as in the visual enjoyment of a gemstone. Yet it is still an endeavor worthy of a lifetime’s effort. It is complex enough for most and the bliss of that seeing is forbidden to many. There is really no access to beauty, nor is there an established path leading to it! For that reason, enlightenment cannot be taken for granted. Enlightenment does not sit around waiting enticingly. One needs to be wise, full humor, humble in attitude and sincerely serious. One needs to have a logical mind similar to a scientist’s, but more. The sentimental dog will not get the bone! One needs to have the feelers out for beauty promised in a universe structured through Mathematics. In short, one needs to be well prepared, heart and mind, and spiritually. Verily the breeze will grace upon him who keeps his window open… .
Beauty is timeless but the musings of our postmodern scholars dwell heavily on the movements of time and the offspring of the thought process. Existential issues such as social and gender equity, interpretation of dreams, instability of meanings and generally, issues that call upon a research within the human psyche. Adulation of the Ego has become the central theme as well as the purpose for doing art.To be exact, Ego has become the main theme of our postmodern philosophies!

Unfortunately, the universe is without an ego–so an enlightenment upon the beautiful cannot come to the human ego in any size or shape. Postmodern art is of the mind and of time. But memories are dead! Alpha Art by contrast, is a sacredness from Supreme Mathematical Relationship, also called Poetry which is both sublime and timeless.
It is true that there is a strong hint of narratives, or even a fantastic drama loaded with biographical / historic data in Las Meninas, but Velazquez might have intentionally created an enigma in his painting in order to enlarge the market appeal of his art as a commodity of desire. There really is no need to over-emphasize those external factors as long as the dynamics governed by S M R are properly in place.

One of art historians’ favorite stories about this painting is that Velazquez painted his motif from the reflection of a great mirror situated in front of his subjects and himself. Now it has become my major complaint about the academics whenever this piece of Las Meninas feature is brought up. They have told it like the oldest story in the history of mankind, always deeply engaging in the form and matter of a fart!

Of course it stinks: can you hear me, professors?

Let us now go there and find out what it is really like to exist in the opposite state of that story–i.e. pretending that Velazquez had painted directly from his models (including himself), instead of the reflection of a great mirror, if that was at all possible!


Figure 2: Looking at Las Meninas in reverse.

Every art historian in the land seems to find that mirror story particularly “mesmerizing,”– enough to get themselves or their students addicted to the “treasure trove of meanings” that is Las Meninas! Each time they discuss Las Meninas, they never fail to bring up that mirror story as though it was the only important thing worth attending to. Now confronted with the same picture, except in reverse, it should be fun to ask our postmodern academics: “What can one find in this reverse picture that has the unbelievable power to induce a climbing of the pulse or a gasping of the heart for joy?”– like when Knox exclaimed in expletives viewing Infanta and everyone thought he was mad? Of course the professors “don’t know what you are talking about!” Why should they? To put in another way, as we view Las Meninas in reverse, where the gorgeous fug is the magic that has so “mesmerized” our professors that it should likewise electrify Alpha Seer Knox until everyone in the room thinks he is mad?

Having failed to find such magical elements capable of electrifying either Alpha Seer Knox or mesmerizing our post modern professors in the “reverse mirror” story, I am forced to make this conclusion:

1. Of the essence of Las Meninas, i.e. of the poetry and the supreme mathematical relationships in the composition, our scholars can hardly see anything at all! However, they do have a special talent for things invented inside their heads about its mirror story. It has become an obsession for them to formulate endless, but useless discourses on the meanings in Art, eventually to bask in the glory in the meaning of art.
2. Of Velazquez’s true greatness everyone knows now that our professors hardly see anything at all! It can thus be concluded that they are utterly blind to the beauty of Velazquez’s masterpiece! Yet are they not calling themselves art professors, or art history professors, even Emeritus Professors–titles that guarantee the transmission of knowledge (or maybe wisdom?) Does it not logically follow that the titles describing their qualifications have so far NOT matched the fact of the capacity being described?

3. No one even bother to pretend to have seen the true beauty that Alpha Seer Knox Martin saw in Velazquez’s Infanta in France. Little wonder our post modern academia are all for the conceptualization of art across the board!

4. What splendid charlatans! What splendid herd instinct that derive such huge following! What splendid art school that keeps the academic religious nonsense alive and its public funding flowing like the Mississippi!!!!!

If one digs even deeper, in search for the cause of this addiction to meanings, one could readily discover that once you remove the meanings or narratives in the painting,–in any painting at all, there is virtually nothing left for our resourceful scholars to lean on so as to base their “scholarly” fantasy! To pretend that one is actually “getting it!” is extremely nauseating, so they have to devise a detour, a course altogether misleading to their students. Woe to the impostors! Their lying heart is now comfortably lodged in a fabricated reality, a horrible crime of counterfeiting from which they cannot easily escape!
Can our scholars be brought back to their senses? I am afraid not, since a blind men can never dream up an elephant, he assumes that the rest of the world should share the similar fate of blindness. There is little alternatives for them except to continue living that illusion.


Figure 3: A portion of the geometric ground plan in Las Meninas.

Unlike the postmodern scholars, I have next to no fascination in the meanings of Art or its derivatives, i.e. narratives. However, with Velazquez, we must allow for an exception! We have here a genius who enjoy puzzles and enigmas to the point of creating a painting that borders on the dramatic. Figure 3 shows the great circle that serves as a sort of introduction to the drama that is in Las Meninas. It passes through the eye of the painter on the left and enters that of the fool on the right. the circle also includes the main group of the players in Las Meninas. Like an old fashioned story teller, Velazquez appears to be saying: ” With this circle serving as an introduction, I, Velazquez, am about to present Las Meninas: It is a story about the genius and the fool; one about charity and cruelty; as well as a story about humility and arrogance… .” The posture of the Lady -in-Waiting on the right has said it all! It is clearly the posture of someone inviting or introducing the audience to a play. Everything Velazquez does is so utterly logical! Doubt not that the great master also wanted to reflect on the time he lived in.The eras of the great Kant and great Descartes!


Figure 4: A portion of the geometric ground plan of Las Meninas.

Figure 4 shows the circle which has a great slanting straight as its tangent.This cirlce seems to be intended by Velazquez to frame up the faces of the greater portion of the players in the drama called las Meninas.


Figure 5: A portion of the geometric ground plan of Las Meninas.

Figure 5 shows the double circle that serves as an anchor to a significant mass of the group portrait. Another logical mathematical construction!


Figure 6: A portion of the geometric ground plan of Las Meninas.


Figure 7: A portion of the geometric ground plan of Las Meninas.


Figure 8: a portion of the geometric ground plan of Las Meninas.

With the existence of the triangle IJK and its resultant dynamics, it makes perfect sense to think of an extraordinary force countering that dynamic, thereby anchoring the entire composition and creating harmony.The great straight of the painter’s canvas on the left has performed that function perfectly, serving to anchor the triangle in the compostion on the one hand as well as creating movements on the other,–causing the composition to come alive with energy.

Remember the great introductory circle I mentioned earlier? Velazquez seemed to have deliberately excluded the young prince (probably Prince Baltasar Carlos) at the lower right corner– as if he were saying: “Let’s not include cruelty in this painting!” — noting that the boy was kicking the dog (symbolic of loyalty and friendship) unprovocably. This individual could be the heir to the throne and probably become king one day. Imagine the horror!


Figure 9: Detail of Prince Baltasar Carlos.

The insightful viewer often derives a great part of a painting’s charm from admiring its details: e.g. the powerful bushstrokes;the local tones;the formation of fantastic metaphors on the quick; or the masterful placement of the black and white. It is a fact that we are constantly being reminded of masterful Chinese calligraphy when studying the details of a painting.

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If you compare the brushstrokes in Velazquez’s art with those in the Chinese calligraphy above, you cannot deny the intimate relationship between painting and calligraphy. In Figure 9, Velazquez’ brushstrokes appear to be extremely free and powerful. All he did was to place a white patch here and a black stroke there. When taken in by the viewer collectively, such superb painterly actions seem to have been done in an extremely casual manner. Then within the flash of a moment: lo and behold– the outlines of the Duke, the King, the Queen and the courtiers surprisingly take shapes as if by magic right in front of us. Seeing is indeed believing!

At this point, it is easy for anyone to jump to the conclusion that Velazquez’ style has been wonderfully spontaneous and absolutely without external constraints. You would see the same thing in Figure 10, where the details sail through the space effortlessly, all brushstrokes seem to have been done with total abandon. But looking at the diagram of internal geometric ground plan which I mapped out in Figure 11 will completely change your mind about the so-called spontaneity.


Figure 10: Detail of Prince Baltasar Carlos with a Dwarf.


Figure 11: Detail of Las Meninas.

Looking at this detail of of Las Meninas, we have entered the microcosm of Velazquez’s painterly universe. Even at this minute level, we often observe that Velazquez has no intention to abandon his compositional geometric ground plan at all. After examining Figure 11, would you still hold the opinion that Velazquez’ style is one of total spontaneity and abandon? Obviously, the opposite seems to be true. Appearance always belies substance ! When I was mapping the above diagram, I was just as amazed by such geometric ground plans as you are now.


Figure 12: Postmodernist imitations.

(Above: painting by Postmodernist imitator Francis Bacon; below: painting by Surrealist imitator Salvatore Dali )

Two of the most clueless works by a surrealist and a postmodernist are being shown above. As I have pointed out before, the surrealists and their disciples, the postmodernists, are big on narratives and meanings. As soon as they have discovered a form of plagiarizing called “appropriation”, they are quick to turn it into a fad or a new fashion. No sooner had the first person exploited that gimmick, or collected his loots from that success, than there were dozens of copycats on his heels; and many more of disciples, producing even more “funny” narratives of similar nature. The entire scholarly clan would come out and egg them on, offering encouraging critiques, proclaiming their “artistic merits” in challenging the so-called patriarchal order of things, and so on. “Art gurus” all over the land tirelessly sing the praise of the baffoon, then his “invention” is relentlessly repeated by equally talentless students… We are indeed living in a cynical and disillusioned world today!–even our humors are so bland, silly, mediocre and in bad taste! As soon as one of us (– was it Marcel Duchamp or Clement Greenberg ?) discovered that the vast majority of mankind lacks the spontaneous ability to understand Art, we began to undermine, deride, ridicule, vandalize, and hijack Art–all done with the greatest fanfare possible, in a time we call the postmodern world. In that reaction, what is it that we are being guilty of? Are we not being driven by jealousy, greed, and a wounded ego? Like a spoiled kid who forbids others to play a game because he fails to excel in it,– for the same reason, some feel bitter or cynical about Velazquez or other Alpha Seers simply because there is a failure on their part in understanding or produce true Art. In addition to that there is also the mistaken belief that Art is about existential meanings and narratives.

Let me now pull out a compatible thumbnail so we may all connect the dots and see for ourselves as to what has gone wrong with an age such as ours.

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Te He

Tee Hee

Oh, sweet Delight

One tickles this age, which calls Tulia’s

Ape Marmoset–


Leda’s Goose a Swan

–Anonymous Elizabethan Poet


Figure 13: Dwarf Sitting on the Floor.

The way Velazquez deals with the dwarfs as a subject matter reminds me of the same attitude adopted by Cezanne in dealing with the latter’s apples. Velazquez has saved a natural deformity for a better day as soon as he translates it into the Poetic Dwarf on his canvas!

Cezanne said,” I will surprise Paris with my apples!”–and he did. Cezannes’ apples are precious gems now hanging in every great museum in the world– so are Velaquez’s Dwarfs.


Figure 14: Detail of a Velazquez dwarf.

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Ben Taishing Lau

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