We often underestimate how therapeutic art really is. Whenever some of the most awful things happen, that words alone aren't enough to ease the pain and trauma one is feeling, the ability to create and express such emotions is always there for us to retreat to. When creating a piece in response to tragic experiences and how they change the person's life, it's a reflection of the hardship that was endured and how one copes, leading to recovery and a stronger appreciation of life. Art inspires us to never take things for granted and show us that despite dark times, there is a light that always helps us carry on and makes us stronger than we were before. An example of such a creative piece that was born from the ashes of a tragedy and is a true inspiration is the independently released album, Inner Landscape, by pianist Antimo Magnotta.
Antimo Magnotta was a resident pianist on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. After a long-time personal struggle, he composed an album reflecting on his experiences from the night of the sinking and dedicated it to the memory of the 32 passengers who were killed. Through the album, Magnotta retells his perspective of that night through by letting his music narrate. The title, Inner Landscapes, as stated by the musician himself, "is a music cycle inspired by my thoughts after the accident. It refers to this brand new landscape I was experiencing ̶ like a window in reverse. It is part of a slow and ongoing healing process". In an article by Lizzie Davis on Classic FM, Magnotta describes what happened the instant the Concordia hit the rock:
"People started asking 'what's going on?'. I tried to keep the passengers calm and said 'we will be getting some instructions from the bridge'. But the loud speakers were just delivering a ghostly silence...People were holding broken teeth in their hands, it looked like a horror movie, a nightmare. This big floating entertaining funfair turned into a death trap."
It started as any regular night, where Magnotta would perform at the café, when at about 9:45 PM, the impact shook the entire room, sending people off balance. Magnotta felt the bolts on his piano come lose, that the piano rolled out of its place. In the midst of the chaos, no one from the bridge communicated with the passengers and crew members about what was really happening or how much danger they were actually in. After helping some of the passengers and fellow crew members the best he could, Magnotta made his escape through a shattered window and caught the attention of a nearby lifeboat. He made it safely to land roughly by 3:00 AM.
The track listing sequence narrates Magnotta's experiences from that night, starting with a piece, dedicated to his daughter Sofia. The track Sofia reflects that he had last seen her 10 days before he left on board the Concordia and that she was on his mind when the incident was taking place. The next track, Where is Everybody recalls the sense of chaos and disorder that filled the room as a result of the long stress-inducing wait for rescue. Open Waters, Seven Short Blasts and One Long One and Abandon Ship depict what was taking place inside and the feeling of escaping the doomed vessel. The Crossing, I'm Alive and The Island paint a bittersweet image of survival. The piece, Thirty-two is composed of 32 notes, each note dedicated to each of the victims who lost their lives. In the final track, Losing Myself, Magnotta illustrates the effects the disaster had on his life and state of mind one year later upon his arrival to London. When delving into his situation as a result of the aftermath, Magnotta states:
"I lost my sleep, I lost my peace of mind and I lost my little savings. I was on the edge of poverty...I was suffering with post-traumatic stress and didn't want to play the piano...All I wanted to do was become anonymous and forget about my past...I had to learn how to play the piano again."
Picking up the shattered pieces in his life and relearning to play the piano again, Inner Landscapes served as therapy and rejuvenation for mind and soul for Magnotta. It was through this album project he could express the fears, hopes and tension he felt when the accident occurred. On his Bandcamp page, in the description for Inner Landscape, Magnotta highlights what he hopes listeners will be reminded of when they hear his music. "I found solace in my music and I hope it will serve as a reminder of the restorative power of art and the resilience of the human spirit". At a time when all seems lost in darkness, Magnotta reminds listeners of what comes after. When hardship and tragedy happen, it can be easy to ruminate in it to the point there appears to be no end in sight. In the end, because of that 'resilience of the human spirit', we as human beings are capable to grow stronger from even the most tragic events. We are not given a spirit of fear, but are blessed with a spirit of hope. The 'restorative power of art' is the reason why we create. Without our abilities to express ourselves through our God-given talents and creativity, ̶ just imagine for a moment how much sadder the world would be without art ̶ when tragedies strike, how would we inspire others during hard times? We try to find the right words to say when horrible things happen, but art can illustrate empowering sentiments that words alone can't do effectively. It is through works like Inner Landscapes that we are reminded that in the wake of tragedy, there is healing even in the most horrendous moments.
We all know art is restorative, but we sometimes underestimate its power and necessity. With Antimo Magnotta's story being told in the form of music, listeners can learn from his experiences that when a devastating event changes one's life, there is hope and alleviation. By using our artistic gifts as a means of therapy and self-reflection, we are reminded that after even in our darkest hours, we are capable of bring light into the world.
With a resurgence of 1980’s and early 1990’s nostalgia, there has been an abundance of art and music that draws inspiration from the decade of excess. From the creative visual and musical artists showcased on New Retro Wave to Indie pop to video games as well as revivals of classic characters and intellectual properties in mainstream popular culture, there’s no doubt that the retro styles of the recent past have their appeal.
Today I will be focusing on one very prominent visual artist of the 1980’s, who’s illustrative works have famously defined the entire decade and has become a major inspiration for some of our contemporary artists. Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) was an America illustrator known for his flat, 2-D art, which were simplistic, yet complex renditions of women. Although his birthplace was in Dayton, Ohio, he lived most of his life in Los Angeles, California. Nagel attended the Chouinard Art Institute after serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He received his bachelor's degree at the California State University, Fullerton in 1969 and began his art career, teaching at the Art Center College of Design while building his value up as a professional illustrator and graphic designer.
In 1971, he worked as a graphic designer for ABC Television and as a freelance artist for other companies and magazines such as IBM, Rolling Stone, MGM and Universal Studios. in 1972. 1976 was the year that would hint at the direction Nagel’s later efforts would take. During that year, he worked on contributions for Playboy magazine, where his work received a wider audience and his signature “Nagel Woman” name.
Aside from Playboy, Patrick Nagel also designed album covers of popular musicians of the time, most notably Duran Daran’s 1982 album, Rio. Other recording artists’ albums included Think It Over (1978) by Cissy Houston, In Touch (1976) by Tommy James, and I’ve Got the Music in Me (1975) by Thelma Houston & Pressure Cooker.
According to the official website of Patrick Nagel regarding his poster art, during the 100 years prior to his time, “poster art has been one of the most humble, influential and pervasive of all the arts.” Unfortunately, it was a dying artform in the United States in the 1970’s as it was losing much of its effectiveness to capture audiences’ attention. Nagel reinvented the art form by displaying something of value to the market that he could offer with his skills:
“[I]n partnership with Mirage Editions and fine art printer Jeff Wasserman, [Nagel] sought to recapture the beauty and power that posters once held in popular culture by returning to a model created at the turn of the century with artists such as Toulouse Lautrec and A.M. Cassandre. They sought to produce the highest quality hand screened art prints that would also serve as collectable advertising art for businesses. Over Nagel’s career, 60 limited edition silk-screened prints were completed and were sold out upon release and Nagel’s iconic women found their way to worldwide recognition.”
Because Nagel showcased rare works that the market could reward, his career proved to be a major success, not only in quality, but also in subject matter. The women depicted in his prints were always known to be “complicated”, creating a rather fascinating ambiguity into her mind. What the Nagel women wants from the viewer is lure their attention towards her. There is a bit of self-importance, yet she’s very reserved. There is also a sense of indifference, yet astuteness and elegance that adds to that ambiguity in her character. There was a reason Nagel retained this vagueness as his official bio adds:
“Nagel often said that he didn’t really want to know these women too well. He imagined them as creatures of the night who drank and smoked too much. Perhaps, but they remain always in control. In the pin-up tradition of women as object, Nagel’s portrayal of them was a break from the past, reflecting the rapidly changing role of women in America. His style evolved subtly along with the times. His women of the seventies are shown as softer, more vulnerable and innocent than his stronger, more self assured women of the eighties.”
Because of the way Nagel portrayed his subject matter, it made his work and their traits memorable. As the Nagel Women continued to take shape throughout his career, he kept increasing their worth in the the art world and market. Even in the fashion and music scene, his works became iconic.
In the years after Patrick Nagel’s death in 1984, his works remain highly regarded worldwide. Zach Kelly’s piece on New Retro Wave covers Nagel’s impact on today’s artists as well as his contemporaries. Examples of such include Comedy Central’s short-lived 2015 adult animated series, Moonbeam City, created by Scott Gairdner (Parental Advisory Warning for language and adult humor). Kelly highlights that “Gairdner encapsulates many facets of the [retro] movement, through a nostalgic Miami-Vice theme, however the distinctive character illustrations and some of the execution of colour is a direct throw to the art of Nagel”. He then describes the album covers of the artists whom are often featured on NRW. ALEX’s 2017 EP, entitled Youth features art by Jacqueline Ruther, Mizucat, which adopts a similar approach to how Nagel portrayed women, while incorporating color and more detail to the woman in the image. The woman featured on Trevor Something’s 2014 release, Trevor Something Does Not Exist, displays a similar art style, by Ariel Zucker (Parental Advisory Warning for gruesome imagery), with the figure’s own elegance and ambiguity blended with more detail. Synthwave musician, SelloRek/LA Dreams pays homage to Nagel with a track, titled Nagel Girl, which Kelly praises how it “matches Nagel’s art well.”
As for Nagel’s contemporaries whom Kelly mentions, such as Carlos Sanchez, Dennis Mukai and Luis Preciado, they each have created works of art, depicting the Nagel-esque woman, while “[adding] their own flavour to the artsphere”. Kelly includes one piece from each artist to illustrate the similarities and contrasts to Nagel’s work. Thrill Me by Carlos Sanchez shows a woman smoking, expressing a similar aloofness to that of the Nagel Women. In contrast to Nagel’s works, however, Sanchez illustrated more detail on the woman’s face and features much like that of the styles of Ruther and Zucker. Dennis Mukai’s Special Friend compares to Nagel’s style by adopting a slightly different, yet similar minimalistic technique in the design, while retaining that sense of elegance seen in Nagel’s posters. Genevieve by Luis Preciado is similar in composition, concept and style. It is distinguishable in its spotty backdrop, making the piece a bit more playful than Nagel’s design.
Without a doubt, Patrick Nagel's short lived career has left major impact for the culture of his time as well as today's creative artists. By reinventing the art of the poster and expressing a unique perspective for his subject matters, Nagel not only created memorable works of art that art lovers would remember him by, but he displayed a tremendous amount of value through his skills that both the market and the art world could reward. When looking back on the traits that made Nagel's art distinctive, it's not just the sense of nostalgia one feels from viewing his work, but the vision and craftsmanship behind them that extends one's appreciation for them.
Disney has been a staple in animated films for eighty years since its release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and continues to enlighten children and adults with their clever storytelling, memorable characters and of course, timeless tales through the art of animation. Walt Disney, the man himself behind the famous company name once reminded us “that it was all started by a mouse”, which made its debut in 1928 in the short film Steamboat Willie. From the early days of Mickey Mouse in short films to full-length animated features like Snow White, Fantasia (1940), Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950) and Lady and the Tramp (1955), Walt Disney and his creative team continuously pushed the boundaries of the art form, capturing realism and life for their characters and the world they inhabit by using techniques such as the multi-plane camera, cel animation and (when it would be effective), rotoscoping. Until his death in 1966, Walt Disney had spent his career, adding to his creative and innovative repertoire. With live action films, theme parks and animatronics also a part of his company’s innovative collection, no one can doubt if Walt Disney was alive today he would be welcoming of 3D (CGI) animation as well and thus, be ready and willing to explore is creative potential. In fact upon the debut of Pixar’s first full-length CGI animated feature, Toy Story in 1995, which the Disney company distributed, Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney said so himself that his uncle would loved the film.
Given the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ success in the 1990’s during the Renaissance era to its decline in the early 2000’s and downsizing throughout the entire decade to its resurgence in the 2010’s, one might be wondering, will Disney ever create a new film using traditional animation? Perhaps the best way to answer that is to evaluate what happened in the 2000’s and what the company is experimenting with nowadays.
Surely it would seem that with the success of Pixar, today's popular releases like Frozen (2013) and Big Hero 6 (2014) and the decline of Disney in the 2000’s, it does seem that hand drawn animation would be a thing of the past. As Pixar released hit after hit with Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004), Disney would have a few successes like Lilo and Stitch (2002), but suffered major failures with Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Treasure Planet (2002) and Home on the Range (2004). The following year, Disney released its first CGI animated feature, Chicken Little, which was a financial success, but was completely out of favor with critics for its notorious lackluster story and dislikable characters. Throughout the remainder of the decade, Disney released three more animated features, two of which were CGI, Meet the Robinsons (2007) and Bolt (2008) and a 2D feature, The Princess and the Frog (2009). Meet the Robinsons was not as successful as Bolt and while The Princess and the Frog was a box office success, it failed to exceed expectations for two reasons. One of which was as current president of Disney and Pixar, Ed Catmull indicated in his and the late Amy Wallace’s book, Creativity Inc, Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration that the “marketing folks warned us: Having the word princess in the title would lead moviegoers to think that the film was for girls only” (Catmull, Wallace p. 268) and that there was also the issue that it was released five days prior to James Cameron’s Avatar. Another set back, which was highlighted by Pixar and Disney’s current chief creative officer, John Lasseter in an article by Variety, he stated that “[he] was determined to bring back [hand-drawn animation] because [he] felt it was such a heritage of the Disney studio” and that after delving into details via research, the results revealed that the film “was viewed as old-fashioned by the audience”.
In an article by Mitchell Stein on The Mickey Mindset Blog, entitled Will Disney Ever Return to Making Hand-Drawn Animated Films?, there is mention of how The Princess and the Frog and the 2011 Winnie the Pooh both failed to compete with other film releases and financially fell short of expectations. Stein goes on to further explain that after Moana, although Disney has no 2D animated films announced in the years to come, he reminds readers that “traditional 2D animation still continues to live on in different forms at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in unexpected forms. In recent years, Disney has found ways to blend unique styles of animation between CG and hand drawn 2D to create stunning results”. He discusses the Academy Award winning 2012 short, Paperman, which made its debut alongside Disney’s 52nd feature animated film, Wreck-It Ralph and pinpoints that Disney “blended the use of traditional animated over CG-rendered work. The result is both stunning and immersive, showcasing Disney’s ability to push innovation and creativity to unexplored frontiers”. (To learn more about the making of Paperman, the film’s director, John Kahrs discusses his process in an article by fxguide, which you can find here).
In addition to Paperman, other short films such as Feast (2014) and Inner Workings (2016) were also created with this technique. Even so, Moana, which is mostly CGI animated, there are also a few aspects that are animated in 2D, such as the opening and the tattoo character, Mini Maui. According to an article entitled Disney’s Oscar-Winning Software Brought ‘Moana’ to Life, But Could a Full Length Movie Be Coming Soon? by Sam Cooper on Movie Pilot, Disney is creating these new animated techniques via Meander, a program that juxtaposes 3D and 2D and delves a bit into how it works. To put it simply, Cooper highlights in bold letters that the program “takes the first layer—a moving, multidimensional image—and allows it to drag the lines of the second layer along with it, filling in the gaps of the hand drawings and letting the hard lines take the spotlight”.
With Disney continuing to innovate as they have always done over the past 80 years, possibilities are as endless today as they have always been in the past. The company has no doubt, had its ups and downs as, especially after Walt Disney's death. It can be a major challenge for a company to adopt a similar mindset as its founder, an example seen in recent years with Apple, Inc following Steve Job’s death, but once a company understands what made their past projects great, they are able to display that same craftsmanship and spirit as the company’s pioneer. The studio was able to bounce back in the 1990’s with the Renaissance era by adopting new innovative approaches to storytelling while retaining the spirit of the classics that made Disney famous and are doing it again in the 2010’s. Innovation in both animation and narrative are the reason the company continues flourish and therefore, 2D animation is not a thing of the past. It’s simply evolving with the times. Disney appears to be exploring new techniques so that the art form would continue to be fresh and new rather than look like they are trying to recreate the past. This is actually no different than the early days of Pixar, experimenting with CGI short films before Toy Story’s debut or how Walt Disney himself experimented with new techniques by starting small and then building up. What is important to note is that Disney, like every other company built around innovation is constantly evolving and failure occurs in the process, not because of the art style, but because of the timing of their releases, how they go about marketing and of course, lack of innovation in the animation techniques. That being said, Disney can make a successful new 2D animated feature through innovation in their animation techniques and retaining their classic spirit without trying to blatantly repeat what they had already done before.
Finding new good music on the mainstream radio has become increasingly rare these days. Flip through stations playing the latest Top 40 hits and you’ll mostly hear songs about clubs and sex with repetitive patterns and bland rhythms. On occasion, you’ll come across a good recent song containing meaningful and relatable lyrics or a feel-good song with a memorable melody and variation in its rhythm, but in today’s mainstream, listeners are usually bombarded with some rather lifeless beats and dull melodies. The question is not only how do you find good music these days, but also where do you find good music these days?
Before exploring the answer to this question, remember when in previous decades, whenever something was new to the mainstream, it was met with critics who also romanticized older music? When people discuss music they like from the 1980’s or 1990’s for instance, most of their selection is based on some of the most memorable hits, not the ones they would have deemed the worst. As with any opinion, listeners’ definition of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music always has been and always will be subjective. The way to distinguish a ‘good’ song from a ‘bad’ song is not based on the decade it came out or what instruments were used (i.e. synthesizers or acoustics). Sometimes our mentality favors the ‘what I like’ bias thought process rather than examining what goes into the making of a good song. With that mindset in place, listeners can make informed choices and discussions about what’s working in modern music and what isn’t.
So, what does today’s music offer that previous decades didn’t? The Internet, of course! It’s an obvious answer, but there’s no denying it. Because of websites like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and perhaps the most obvious, YouTube, independent musicians can start a fan following online. If you search artist after artist, you will find there is an abundance of music you might not have thought was being made today. In her article, 10 Reasons Today’s Music Industry Doesn’t Suck on GuitarWorld.com, Laura B Whitmore delves into the many ways today’s musicians collaborate, communicate and distribute their music. Options that didn’t exist twenty or thirty years ago are now at artists’ and their listeners’ fingertips. One of the examples Whitmore pinpoints is that “[t]here are more options than ever to get your music heard”, in which she writes “[w]ith loads of media outlets, blogs, distribution sites and more, there’s no doubt you can take matters in your own hands when it comes to music distribution”. The wealth of outlets enables today’s musicians to showcase their talents where listeners have easy access to. They are not limited to just the radio.
A little personal story, this was how I discovered most of my new favorite music and artists. I simply Googled 2016 love ballads in hopes of finding modern music that gave me the same positive, pleasant feeling as popular hits of the 80’s and 90’s. Sure enough, I found plenty, if not more than I expected. I came across a New York based pop duo known as Paperwhite and their song entitled Pieces, which I found on a YouTube channel called NewViceCity by Fernando Martinez. The channel features a wide variety of songs and artists from recent years whose music is influenced by the classics with a modern spin. There’s Haim, Pure Bathing Culture, St. Lucia, Susanne Sunfør, Fire Tiger, Allie X, Great Good OK Fine, Savior Adore, Gavin Turek and Phoenix to name a few who might peak the curious music fan’s interest. Even Carly Rae Jespen’s latest tunes are featured on the channel, (which are a huge contrast from her Call Me Maybe days).
Another YouTube channel I also listen frequently is New Retro Wave, where I’ve discovered some interesting 1980’s and early 90’s influenced musicians such as Wolf and Raven, Dance with the Dead, N I N A, KRISTINE, Dana Jean Phoenix, Le Brock, FM 84, Timecop 1983, Michael Oakley, The Midnight and Robert Parker. While I consider New Retro Wave a favorite of mine, to step out of my own bias, I'll address the channel’s shortcomings. There are some songs (mostly the non-vocal tracks), that sound rather similar. Because the channel is catered to fans of retro music and 80’s/early-90’s pop culture, this is where personal taste can easily overshadow other perceptions of what constitutes as ‘good’ music. What listeners critique about today’s mainstream music, regarding it to sounding all the same can also be said about some of the music showcased on NRW. That’s not to say NRW is not recommendable, but it has its intended audience who would be looking for the familiar synthwave tropes, which brings us to another pointer in finding new music: niches.
When it comes to defining good music, the target audience a radio station or a YouTube channel is dedicated to can also play a major role in the listener’s selections. Whether the music is ‘indie’ or ‘mainstream’, the listener can also tune into any station playing their favorite genre. Take Sirius XM for instance. When scrolling for a specific station and you’re looking for adult contemporary ballads or light pop, stations like The Blend or Velvet might appeal to you. Some good examples of today’s best artists listeners can find on Sirius XM include Tori Kelly, Gavin James, Josh Kaufman, The Revivalists, Mary Lambert, Matt McAndrew, Colbie Caillat, Rachel Platten, Michael Buble, Jordan Sparks, Josh Groban, Leona Lewis, Adele, Susan Boyle, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel, John Legend and (I kid you not) One Direction.
To further illustrate this point about the relevance of niches, author and Wall Street Journal writer, Jim Fusilli examines older listeners’ bias towards the music they listen to and why they refuse to engage with modern music in his book, Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music. According to Fusilli, the target audience for music has always been geared towards youth and that the music business always knows how to effectively market towards them. Music catered to older listeners don’t receive the same amount of airplay or promotion. Because of this approach to marketing music, older listeners tend to feel alienated from most of the current music scene and therefore, often don’t know where to begin their search. He also has a website called www.renewmusic.net, which as its tagline, “Music for Grownups” implies, is devoted to helping adults find new music that appeals to them.
Finding good music today can be a bit of a challenge if you only restrict your selections to the radio only, but if you expand your searches online and on various stations, outlets, streaming services and YouTube channels you might be surprised by what you find. Because music is at its most expansive in its reach than it’s ever been, discovering your new favorite songs and artists can be sought out with a simple click of the mouse.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.