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a natural edge
June 27, 2007 7:30 AM   Subscribe

..."imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints...scanned with an ordinary office scanner"....Katinka Matson is cofounder of the brilliant and very readable ezine, Edge. Her digital art is featured there. Thumbnails of her 40 flowers. 12 flowers. Five flowers. Red anemone.
posted by nickyskye (44 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a lot of handwaving, but it sounds like she scans things, then uses Photoshop to manipulate, the prints out. I don't really get how a binary computer file shown on a computer screen (or squirted out of a stepper motor-controlled inkjet printer) allows you to "erase from your mind any notion of pixels", though.
posted by DU at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2007


wow
posted by horsemuth at 7:51 AM on June 27, 2007


I've been a fan for a long time.
posted by Dave Faris at 7:55 AM on June 27, 2007


The more things change, the more they stay the same. It was almost 4 years ago to the day.
posted by JJ86 at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2007


"no photographs"

So a scanner isn't a type of camera then?
posted by subtle_squid at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2007


JJ86, Having Googled "Katinka Matson MetaFilter" and coming up with a mere comment or two, I thought the artist deserved a proper post, along with Edge, which is an extraordinarily enjoyable mix of science and literature. But I didn't expect almost the same words used as in troutfishing's post! yikes. And four years almost to the day?! *cue Twilight Zone music...what is it with those flowers?

4 years ago she had only a few flowers...at least her art has evolved...Edge too.
posted by nickyskye at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2007


Um.


She scanned some flowers?



And...
posted by stenseng at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2007


I liked them last time and I like them again, nickyskye - very lovely. And as for the naysayers, wackybrit had this comment last time that I thought was spot on:

Likewise, anyone can grab a photo and take a picture. Anyone can run up a Web page using Frontpage. Anyone can write a thousand words.

Doesn't mean they do a good job of it though.

posted by madamjujujive at 8:39 AM on June 27, 2007


I'm sure hundreds of thousands of people have scanned flowers or nails or trinkets and said to themselves, "that's cool," and it never went farther than their screens.

Katinka Matson scanned stuff and said, "that's cool, and I want to show it to other people."

And that's why she's an artist, and you are not.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2007


And that's why she's an artist, and you are not.

hey now, she also wrote some pompous prose to go with it!
posted by delmoi at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2007


hey now, she also wrote some pompous prose to go with it!

I have to agree. The pictures are nice, even artistic. The verbal diarrhea about the paradigmatic synergistic awesomeness of depixelization is dumb.
posted by DU at 8:48 AM on June 27, 2007


Thanks, these are nice.

(You know you're onto something when DU gets all cranky. Oh, wait, that would be every post. "Everyone wins and all must have prizes!")
posted by OmieWise at 9:10 AM on June 27, 2007


This is truly some pretentious bullshit.

The images themselves aren't bad. However, trying to pass them off as highly original because they aren't "technically" photographs is laughable.

A scanner is nothing more than a camera with some other electronics attached to get the picture from point "a" to point "b". What she is doing is neither new, nor unique.

The fact that her second breakthrough is (gasp!) using an inkjet printer is equally ridiculous.

It's too bad, really. What we have here is an example of some good art mired down ego, and cheapened by its association with someone more concerned with having an artistic image than creating them.
posted by tocts at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thanks mjjj. :)

subtle_squid, Your question piqued my curiosity. How could scanned image not be a type of photograph? On Katinka's "About the artist" page she says, "For the past several years I have experimented with a non-photographic technique for creating images by utilizing input through the flatbed CCD scanner. No camera or lenses are used. The process involves scanning flowers and other natural objects on an open-top scanner from underneath the objects with a slo-moving sensor."

delmoi and DU, The links I put up of her images (except on the front page of Edge) didn't have any but the simplest words on them, like "Nine Flowers" or a copyright statement.

Where is the "she also wrote some pompous prose" you are objecting to? Did she write it? I couldn't find it on the image pages. Kevin Kelly of Wired mag, who I quoted in making this post, wrote a page praising her work.
posted by nickyskye at 9:23 AM on June 27, 2007


@nickyskye: while Katinka Matson did not write it herself, she has, on her own website, an introduction that she presumably (due to her inclusion of it on her website) agrees with. This introduction is full of absolutely ridiculous praise that pretty much boils down to "Katinka Matson is incredible because she used a scanner. Also, an inkjet printer! WOW!".

That's where people are picking up the pompous/pretentious vibe from.
posted by tocts at 9:29 AM on June 27, 2007


Um.

She scanned some flowers?

And...


Um.

He drew a pipe and wrote below it that it isn't a pipe?
He painted a some sunflowers?
It's a bunch of coloured lines and planes intersecting at straight angles?
So this kid gets lost in New York City and calls everyone a bunch of phonies?
He really wants to be a writer but his tea is getting cold and he can't shut the fuck up about it?
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son?
They all live in a yellow submarine?
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day?
A Danish prince seeks revenge for his father's death?

And...




And it's art, you idiot. Seriously, I have no respect for this type of snark. If you don't like this particular artifcact of some person's creative expression, fine, stay the fuck out of this thread. Or come in here anyway and critique it, probably even better in my mind. But this type of feigned monosyllabic ignorance while at the same time trying to make a sly, bitter point about what art IS and SHOULD BE and WHAT HIGH AND NOBLE GOALS IT SERVES and THIS IS NOT IT hasn't been relevant since the first time someone uttered the words "my six-year old niece could do this" while speaking about Picasso, and even then the guy was an asshole for saying it. Why? Because your niece didn't do this and neither did you, so I'd suggest either you go scan some flowers real pretty right about now, or you discuss this work honestly and USE YOUR WORDS, or you shut the fuck up.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2007 [8 favorites]


tocts, Then better to be accurate if saying "she also wrote some pompous prose".

She did not write the prose.

It is a single praising endorsement by a person who bought one of her works, as many artists have on their websites.

I think the images are wow-worthy, scanner or no scanner. She makes no pretension about the technique of using the scanner being unique. If anything, she is saying that it's just a plain old, affordable office scanner. She put the effort in and she made the art. Paint brushes and paint are cheap. They are not unique, just tools.

The scanner is just a tool, like a camera. No biggie. However, when camera work is done well, the images may be amazing. Same with a scanner. People go into raptures over cameras, paint, paint brushes. It's a love of the technology and tools, especially when they are relatively new and, imo, it seems understandable.
posted by nickyskye at 9:46 AM on June 27, 2007


Oh for heaven's sake - why shouldn't she include a write-up by Kevin Kelly on her site? She shouldn't be damned by other people's praise, whether you take issue with it or not. Unless you have more evidence than that, it's hardly fair to call her pretentious.

You may not like the technique, you may not find it noteworthy, but many do find these images quite beautiful. I really don't much care how they were made. Yes, anyone can scan - but she obviously has an eye for color and composition too. If other people are doing similar quality work with scanners, I'd enjoy seeing it.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:49 AM on June 27, 2007


I'm pretty sure the phrase "pearls before swine" is applicable here.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


@nickyskye: I can't speak for others, but I myself did not say she wrote pompous prose. She did, however, decide that the best introduction to her body of work is an incredibly pompous piece of writing that makes ridiculous claims such as that a scanner is not a camera, and that printing something out on an inkjet somehow helps one get away from the notion of pixels.

And personally, I don't think they are wow-worthy, but that's obviously subjective. Without the writeup by Kelly, I'd pretty much have reacted favorably towards this, but the fact that she apparently likes the way that piece paints her, so to speak, makes it hard for me to not view her as pompous.
posted by tocts at 9:56 AM on June 27, 2007


Hmmmm, her colors are nice and all, but the images all just feel so heartless. Obviously, art is entirely in the eye of the beholder, and all of the images I looked at felt really flat. Then again, I've never connected well with pictures of flowers.
posted by nerdcore at 10:02 AM on June 27, 2007


tocts, writing that makes ridiculous claims such as that a scanner is not a camera

If Ms. Matson, cofounder of Edge, which specifically has a focus on science and technology and Mr. Kelly of Wired, say the scanner is not a camera, I'm inclined to believe them.

The definition of a scanner is:

"A device that converts visual information into digital data...

digitizing device used to translate a picture or typed text into a pattern of dots which can be understood and stored by a computer...

A device that examines a spatial pattern one part after another, and generates analog or digital signals corresponding to the pattern. Scanners are often used in mark sensing, pattern recognition, or character recognition. For the 3725 communication controller, a processor dedicated to controlling a small number of telecommunication lines. It provides the connection between the line interface coupler hardware and the central control unit.

Any device that systematically decomposes a sensed image or scene into pixels and then records some attribute of each pixel."

tocts, and that printing something out on an inkjet somehow helps one get away from the notion of pixels

Kelly, does not say that.

Kelly's actual words were:

" When I saw Matson's images I was blown away. Erase from your mind any notion of pixels or any grainy artifact of previous digitalization gear. Instead imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints. That is what a scanner gives you. Now imagine a gifted artist like Matson exploring what the world looks like when it can only see two inches in front of its eye, but with infinite detail! In her flowers one can see every microscopic dew drop, leaf vein, and particle of pollen—in satisfying rich pigmented color. Matson has a gift with design. I delight in her new images, particularly the sly one with a wood mushroom and flower. She is at the forefront of a new wave in photography, or what we should call new imaging. New cameras, like the Foveon, new scanning technology, and new pigmented printers like the Epson series, are all going to give artists like Matson room to reinvent how we see again."

Like or not like the images or Edge zine, that's your choice, but would like some accuracy in the discussion.
posted by nickyskye at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2007


'I'm sure hundreds of thousands of people have scanned flowers or nails or trinkets and said to themselves, "that's cool," and it never went farther than their screens.

Katinka Matson scanned stuff and said, "that's cool, and I want to show it to other people."

And that's why she's an artist, and you are not.'

I doubt I have ever read anything on Metafilter more wrong, and I have been reading this site for over 6 years. I'm glad Emily Dickinson continued to write despite her failure to win the title of artist. Apparently, the awarding of the title is dependent on publicity, not creativity.

Ms. Matson's work is pretty strong. Her pieces are all really well balanced. It's tough to say anything about pixels since we're all seeing them over monitors. I would like to see them in large prints.
posted by BigSky at 10:48 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


nickyskye: If Ms. Matson, cofounder of Edge, which specifically has a focus on science and technology and Mr. Kelly of Wired, say the scanner is not a camera, I'm inclined to believe them.

Nothing says defensive quite like an appeal to authority.

Scanners use photoreceptive sensors to convert visible light into digital images. Digital cameras use photoreceptive sensors to convert visible light into digital images.

Hmm. I seem to be observing to a pattern here ...

A digital camera and a scanner are simply two different ways to use a photoreceptive sensor to turn whatever is in front of the optics into a digital image. The fact that a scanner's optics do not have as wide a field of view (typically) as a handheld digital camera, and therefore must essentially composite a bunch of images (lines, in fact) together, does not make the underlying technology any less similar.

As for whether Kelly is ooh'ing and ahh'ing over the use of an inkjet printer, it is pretty clear that he is, from quotes such as these:

But there was one more needed technology to bring them to life: ink jet printing.

...

I recently finished a book of color photographs published by the world's best art house publisher, printed in the best printer in Italy, and the colors of these pages can't compare to the ink jet prints that I made of the images as a proof.

There are a few others, but you get the point. He describes the physical manifestation (e.g. the inkjet printed) versions of Matson's shots as being able to make you (the reader) "Erase from your mind any notion of pixels". It is clear that he believes that the mighty inkjet printer is the reason for this, and honestly, that's a pretty ridiculous statement to be making.

Look, it's obvious you like Matson's work quite a bit. It's also obvious that some of us think that what she is doing is not original, not particularly great, and is attached to a groan-worthy introduction that tops the charts in terms of pretention.

While I don't begrudge you your liking of her work, I do think that you're being a bit closed minded in your appeals for "accuracy" in this discussion. We can certainly agree to disagree on the worthiness of her work, but characterizing those who disagree with you as being "inaccurate" or not understanding the work is juvenile and counter productive.
posted by tocts at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think she should move from flowers to body parts that would be more exciting!
posted by Viomeda at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2007


A scanner is a camera. It's a tiny camera that takes series of small images and combines them in the end to form a coherent image of the scanned object. The main difference between a scanner and a conventional camera is that the scanner provides a unique loss of perspective that would be very hard to duplicate with a conventional camera, although you could argue that multi-image panoramas are essentially the same thing. It's really the digital replacement for a stat camera (which was very much a camera).
posted by doctor_negative at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2007


For more of the scanner technique, see Robert Creamer. His exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History just closed last Sunday, and will travel around the country over the next few years. If you have a chance, take a look - the web gallery doesn't do justice to the 2'x3' in-person version. A pdf prospectus of the exhibit is available.
posted by johnwilcox at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Pearls before swine" or "art before nerds"... either way you get trampled.
posted by vronsky at 12:19 PM on June 27, 2007


either way you get trampled.

I don't think we are trampling here, we are trying to figure out if this artwork is authentic, original, expressing the artists raw talent, or moving art forward.

There is nothing original about botanicals so we move to realistic presentation and accuracy. This is all technical art and seems to be discovered off-hand indstead of the artist's life work. She has a BA not an MA so her experience with art is self motivated. It dosn't render any school of technique. In my opinion, which is one of millions who may look at the work and be afffected, is the scanner is doing all the real work here. The images are beautiful and rich but they do not exist with out the graphic thechnology. I would say she is graphic artsit at best who would benefit from knowing what it's like to paint, draw, print, create from your own hand. I think that is the real debate about art today: are we artists by our own right or are we artists because we can press buttons and manipulate pixels. In other words does her vision for unique flower art have a meaning beyond its digital perfection?
posted by Viomeda at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2007


"are we artists by our own right or are we artists because we can press buttons and manipulate pixels."

Are we artists because we can mix paint? Because we can draw a straight line? Because we can't draw a strait line? Because we won't draw a straight line? When the argument comes down to "this isn't art because you didn't use __ media," then I think it's lost. Cameras, computers, light, sound are just media. Art is largely a perception, yet most of us have an opinion of what's art and what's not. Now, if we all perceived art in the same way then the definition would be set, wouldn't it? And then it wouldn't be art.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:24 PM on June 27, 2007


PS. I'm pissed I didn't think of scanning flowers. I've scanned a great number of 3d items and have been really happy with the interpretation that happens through the scanner algorithm. It flattens the object, but also translates the colors in really interesting ways. The contrast is awesome too.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2007


The problem with her work is context: any techy community is going to see right through the technique to the content, of which there is very little new or interesting. It's "art," sure, but it's boring art that says "flowers are pretty" and not much else. Her compositions are balanced but cliché. Compare it to Creamer's work (thanks johnwilcox!) and notice how he does things with his flowers. Takes advantage of the flat bed of the scanner to create patterns or scatter petals, works with the black as negative space. Matson takes pretty pictures of flowers. Oh, and applies photoshop filters to them. Oy.

There's some nice things there (the second anemonie photo would be real nice blown up real big), but the content is so so so lacking.

I don't think Vermeer is the most apt painter of light comparison to make here.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:49 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I mean to say: the problem with her work is content. This context (MeFi) reveals that.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Should we not draw any lines, ever?

I'm not arguing media, I'm arguing one's own technique and creation for their ideas. If I program in a stich pattern into those sewing needlepoint machines and it runs it out, did I really make it? I think I manufactured it because I still can't needlepoint or sew. I don't want to dumb down the kind of work it takes to make quality art. I guess if a bunch of people like a high definition xerox of my Barbie doll collection then hey, I'm an artist and I'm gonna market myself on the web.
posted by Viomeda at 3:02 PM on June 27, 2007


I want to agree with wemayfreeze: the content of her ideas doesn't do it for me but boy the girl can scan herself flower.


evening, work day is over.
posted by Viomeda at 3:11 PM on June 27, 2007


MetaFilter: We Should Not Draw Any Lines, Ever.
posted by davejay at 3:35 PM on June 27, 2007


Wow: Art without qualia.
posted by mobunited at 3:59 PM on June 27, 2007


"Should we not draw any lines, ever?"

Are lines required for it to be art?

"I guess if a bunch of people like a high definition xerox of my Barbie doll collection then hey, I'm an artist and I'm gonna market myself on the web."

I personally think that could be very cool if done with an eye for composition and a nice undercurrent of humor (or horror). But see, that's the issue. I would like something like that, I might consider it art, depending upon the above criteria.

As for manufacturing - many of western culture's most loved paintings were done on what was essentially an assembly line. Most "old masters" had apprentices who did most of the painting, and they just came in and fixed it up. Most of the content was nothing more than what is now taken care of by Sears in their portrait department. Is it still art?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2007


It looks good to me.

It's art.
posted by Jimbob at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Very nice. Thanks, nicky.
posted by homunculus at 8:43 PM on June 27, 2007


It's craft.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:24 PM on June 27, 2007


I like her office party series, too.

Why do so many "what is art?" debates come up here? Like it's finally going to be settled today by the gaggle of one-legged unicyclists, "authenticist" wooden Lego enthusiasts, serious comic book collectors, balding hair metal fans, backyard astronomers/peeping toms/partial nudists, dysfunctional relationship database administrators, and bathtub sea monkey breeders likely to be in any thread.
posted by pracowity at 4:44 AM on June 28, 2007


She's also married to the proprietor of the website. Perhaps that makes her an artist?
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 5:08 AM on June 28, 2007


One of the main concepts of Edge ezine seems to be that extraordinary intersection between artistic creation and science/technology, which is taking place among thinkers and innovators at this time in history.

MetaFilter is an example of that intersection with our rowdy econversations. Once in a while I'm reminded all this wonderful hubbub here is taking place in cyber space but usually I just gawp in total enjoyment -or aggravation- at the monitor screen.

A New York Times article re the scanner imaging of Katinka Matson's work. It's a fun detail that the inventor of the flat-bed scanner is a personal friend of Katinka's.

Conceptually, Katinka's art is an example of that convergence between art and technology. Aesthetically, I don't think of the way the images were made, just enjoy them as images.
posted by nickyskye at 7:27 AM on June 28, 2007


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