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22 Sep 06:00

"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all..."

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

- Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (via psych-facts)
21 Sep 09:00

Digitize Books without Permission

by Dover Public Library
Copyright laws are a tricky thing to nail down, especially when you’re dealing with globalization. Recently the Court of Justice of the European Union made an interesting ruling that has impacted libraries ability to digitize books for their patrons. According to the ruling, the libraries do not to to have permission from the publisher in […]
17 Sep 12:32

The World That Fit In Scheherezade's Head

by Zak S
Part six in a series on D&Dables in art history

"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."
--Tales of the Dying Earth, Jack Vance
Royal Mosque, Isfahan, 17th century.
The little niches are called muqarnas

"Decorative" is a loaded word in art history, and--considering what art actually is--is hard to define. It has something to do with there being more colors and shapes going on than ideas (and stands on the opposite side of the tightrope from another vague and loaded word--"illustration"--which suggests an image where there's nothing but ideas going on).
19th C. Mughal Qur'an--from Iran or India
Great Mosque, Damascus c. 715 
Drawing a clean distinction between what's "decorative" and what isn't is hard because different viewers are going to have different notions about how many ideas they're looking at in any given object. I, for one, am not sure I've seen anything "purely decorative"in my life.
Samanid bowl with calligraphy, 10th century but looking somehow very modern.
Another one. There are lots of types of Islamic calligraphy--this long geometric
kind is called kufic script, it's fairly common.

The problem is pushed to the foreground with the art of the Islamic world because--depending how you look at it--either it's almost all decorative or none of it is. Or maybe everything religious isn't and everything that isn't religious is--even when they're done by the same artist in almost the same style. Or something. It's hard to say and better, probably, to just look.
Incense burner, Egypt, 8th-9th C.
While the Western tradition addressed ideas mostly through illustration and story ("here's St George killing a dragon") in the various Islamic civilizations a different creative direction took hold.

Part of this has to do with religious injunctions against depicting things. The precise rules are different depending where you are and who you ask--sometimes its a rule about depicting just the Prophet, sometimes it's a rule about depicting people, sometimes it's a rule about depicting any living thing, sometimes it's a rule about depicting any real living thing. I'm no expert on the rules, though I do remember in school seeing one Persian manuscript where a later owner had gone through and painted a black line through the neck of every person in the manuscript.
Wonderfully enigmatic image of the Prophet looking at
a David Lynch box. 1222. The veiled face is one
convention adopted to avoid depicting him.

Point is: the most common way to express stories and ideas was through calligraphy. Taking the overt content--words--and imparting beauty and perhaps new shades of meaning to them by how they were written.
Blue Qur'an--North Africa, 9th-10th C.
Mamluk-era Qur'an

Both the line and the ethic of calligraphy (take a known and legible thing, beautify it with strict attention to geometry and proportion) influenced every single other art form in the culture. The mosques often have calligraphy worked into the reliefs, the paintings have a pictograph-like line, the metalwork is done in dense script-like meshes of vegetal designs.
Ince Manare madrasa, Konya, Turkey, 1258. That's a knotted
prayer running up the front of the building.

Here's what I particularly like about this from a D&D perspective. Consider Jack Vance's Dying Earth as quoted by Jeff:

Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violet Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.

Turjan closed the book, forcing the spell back into oblivion. [...] Then he sat down and from a journal chose the spells he would take with him. What dangers he might meet he could not know, so he selected three spells of general application: the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.

And consider Jeff's comment here: Spells are almost alive with power. Memorizing a spell is kinda like putting a demon in your head. Something similar could be said of a prayer--a prayer is putting a spark of the divine in your head--or into whatever you're painting it on or carving it into.
Amulet case--10th-11th C.
The black stuff is a compound called niello, often
used for medieval inlay.
And D&D wizards are always writing spells down, and in old editions you could even write it wrong and memorize it wrong. I like the idea that writing things down is encoding them and  binding them into the thing. While calligraphy was esteemed almost- or just as- highly in Japan and China, it didn't have the omnivorous quality of Islamic calligraphy, taking over walls, plates, doorways.

There is something almost gnostic in this: the world and everything in it is just the expression of something else happening in another, higher reality. All our world's objects and pleasures are just a text about that higher world.
Great Mosque, Cordoba, Spain

The architecture also has to be counted as a tremendous influence on the art--moreso than in the West, because of the art's inherently abstract and geometric quality, it's easy to find the forms of buildings reproduced on a smaller scale in the luxury objects and paintings. One theory holds that the "carpeted" look of these traditional walls descends from actual carpets--which the Mongols and other nomadic peoples' used as tent walls and which were and are still hung on walls for insulation and to, of course, tie the room together.
Persian Qur'an, using Nasta'liq script-- 16th-17th century
Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan (1404, but
completely reconstructed in the 70s I think)
Mamluk Qur'an

Lutfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran, finished in 1618
Various medieval braziers...

I think the colorful and monumental qualities of Islamic architecture are partially due to having (in a decent proportion of the very many countries which were ruled by an Islamic civilization at one time or another) a lot less foliage to compete with than the rest of us. Bukhara, for instance, gives the impression that if you wanted any kind of environment you had to build it yourself:
Great Mosque, Yazd, Iran 1330
So calligraphy and carpets influence the buildings, and the buildings influence everything else. These influences have something in common: they're all things only people make. Nature plays a role in every civilization's art, of course, but it wouldn't be crazy to say it plays a smaller roll in the art of the Islamic world than in that of any other great world civilization. It appears as pattern and abstraction, but relatively rarely as a force in itself.
Weird cat-shaped incense burners were fairly
common in 12th Century Iran 
I have no idea how accurate this is, but here's someone's
explanation for the variety of weird felines: "While zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations were forbidden under Islamic religious law, the so-called “principle of improbability” was employed to create animals that were so far removed from reality that they could not be argued to be in any way representational of nature; thus were the strictures avoided. " 
Super cute.
The lack of observed natural motifs adds an air of urbanity and artifice to Islamic art taken out of context that accords well with the kind of goatless cosmopolitanism in 1001 Nights-style worlds like Al-Qadim and the Thief of Baghdad.

This painting, done in 1488 by the renowned Bihzad, features Zuleykha chasing Yusef through seven doors and is one of the most magical things I have ever seen:
Note the totality of the artifice: no sky, no landscape, everything is civilized, abstracted, sturctured, lonely, symbolic--plants and stars are only present as the idea of plants and stars worked into the patterns. This is a true mythic otherworld maze, made of only psychological things. This is Julio Cortazar territory--hundreds of years before modernism.

Here is Bihzad actually taking on nature, with the typically Persian use of rich colors derived from jewelry, lustred tilework and textile design:

Mir Sayyid Ali came along a little while after Bihzad...
Palace scene,1539-43
...I love how the food and wine float on that palace carpet like toy boats.

It's interesting to compare this battle scene to how a Japanese artist might have painted it. In both cases, the trees could be stylized and isolated, but the Persian painter has decisively and consciously transformed the tree into a beautiful symbol of a tree, whereas a Japanese painter would have given us some approximation of some seen tree.
From the Bayasanghori Shahnameh
The horses, though, have detail and distinction, no two quite alike--as useful war animals they belong to civilization, to the writer-like record of who and what was there. Compare this to one of Paolo Uccello's battles.

Likewise, you can directly compare this anonymous Ottoman portrait to the Bellini painting that inspired it:
…while Bellini was worrying about how the light fell on the folds and the face and making it look like his painter was actually sitting on the ground, the Ottoman artist worked on recording colors and patterns--making the subject of the painting into a pattern.

And, taking a bite out of the other end of cultural appropriation sandwich, here's a Persian hero killing a  totally Chinese dragon...
Bahram Gur Kills the Dragon. 1371. 
18 Sep 11:00

#616 Superhighway Robbery

by treelobsters
17 Sep 17:18

grofjardanhazy: Evolution of the Desk (1980-2014) gif:...

by joberholtzer


Evolution of the Desk (1980-2014)

gif: grofjardanhazy, original video via Best Reviews

09 Sep 09:26

Medieval Art: 1000 Years Of Bad Ideas

by Zak S
(Third in a series)
The highlights of art history, as usually taught, go:

1. Egypt
2. Greece and Rome
3. the Renaissance
4. the mainline of Western painting (Caravaggio, Rembrandt, etc)
5. Modernism

This offers a pretty easy-to-follow story: from humble beginnings, realism steadily increases until (around 5) photography is invented, history ends, art explodes with Picasso-shaped fireworks, and here we are now and we can just watch movies instead.

It's also taught this way for another reason: the cultures involved represent a simple history of improving ideas. Egypt is a tyranny, but it is undoubtedly a civilization--it has laws and stuff, it's well-documented and explicable. Then we have Greece and Rome where we have democracy (occasionally) and individuality and philosophy and all that. Then the Renaissance with humanism, and then the Enlightenment, which leads (via a familiar paper-trail) to the wonderful now. It's not that all of history was great, but it was at least necessary. This is a very complacent philosophy: Everything's fine now, right? It's that way because of millennia of refinement.
Meaux Cathedral gargoyle
Seen this way it's pretty clear why you'd leave the Middle Ages out: in this story they can only be seen as a terrible thousand-year-long detour on the way from stateless barbarism to equality, science, and safety.
Gargoyles are so distinctive a form that even though
they're just carved images of demons, in D&D & other games they're actually
their own class of monster
And I would submit that this is why we like them so much. Nothing is so much fun to play in as a ruin. And the more sophisticated the culture that produced the building in the first place, the more fun it is to fuck around in the fucked-up shell of it. This is why we find post-apocalypses fascinating to play in, too. Games offer the imagination all of the exoticism and none of the consequences. This is why the Renaissance Fair always ends up skewing Medieval.
Case in point: This isn't Medieval at all. The flowing lines and naturalistic ear give this away
as being, like many famous gargoyles,  a product of
the 19th century Gothic Revival. The Gothic keeps getting revived for
a reason.

Unlike the oldest eras, The Middle Ages have a great many markers of civilization in abundance: writing, fortresses, machines, churches, philosophies, domesticated animals, politics, steel, towns, cities. But unlike the Renaissance, they're using them all wrong. And that's amazing.
This is the Moneymusk Reliquary. That tracery lets you know its
from Scotland or Ireland. Reliquaries are special expensive boxes
to keep the body parts of saints in. This is a dumb idea.
Since this isn't my first D&D blogging rodeo I will now pause to acknowledge the amateur and professional historians in the first row with their hands in the air straining to point out two things:

1. There was actually a great deal of intellectual and technological progress made in the Middle Ages,
2. Several of the tropes we associate with D&D and the traditional "fantasy" era are actually more Renaissance or Age of Exploration than strictly Medieval.
Another dumb reliquary.

Well that doesn't matter: we're talking about how people view history, not how it is. And in our minds we associate the Middle Ages with warfare and superstition. And warfare and superstition is fighters and magic-users. And those things are fun.

Lindisfarne Gospels.
Some Irish monk spent all this time painting ("illuminating")
this one page of a copy of the bible. Like as if they had
nothing better to do.

If we view the history of art as a history of philosophy (that is: a search for truth) then the Middle Ages are meaningless. If we view the history of art as a history of the imagination (that is: a history of human emotions and inventions) then the Middle Ages are absolutely essential to who we are today. Few people in any walk of life even now go longer than a week without using words like "king" or "knight" or "witch" or "wizard" or "demon" and the very linguistically convenient concepts these words encapsulate.
Painting in the Middle Ages raised the pattern established in ancient art of
"animals drawn well and lots of ways, people drawn poorly and always the same"
to the level of a fetish.
Even today, the stupidest members of the RPG community think of art as serving philosophy--likely due to not knowing what imagination is.
The entrance to Hell (dumb idea) was frequently depicted as
being a big mouth called…a 'hellmouth'.
And, yes, it says 'penis'.
Nothing guarantees tourism like a castle or a cathedral--and yet few buildings incarnate such stupid ideas. You don't need a castle unless you've created a social order based around petty tyrants living in constant fear of each other--and you don't need a cathedral unless you decided to waste all your stone and cash and several generations of your able-bodied men building a stylish antenna to talk to a ghost. These are awful, beautiful things. These are Fleurs Du Mal.
Classic Greek column capitals are divided into three orders:
Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. All of which are a subset of
the Not As Cool As These order.

No matter what was actually going on in the hearts and days of the millions of Europeans that lived and died after the influence of Rome abated and before the Renaissance reached them, what we see in the art--in the best of it anyway--is bad ideas. Bad ideas made beautiful and touching and compelling by effort, by intensity of belief, by invention.
The Roettgen Pieta
…and by the (stupid) idea that things needed to be artified--to glorify a god or a duke. Any object was a possible site of aestheticization. The craft ethic has probably never reached a greater height in Western civilization than in the Middle Ages--not only because it was the last time there wasn't much division between high art and useful craft, but also because being crafty was one of the few ways to avoid dying face down in a pig ditch before you lost all your baby teeth.
Ivory chess pieces from different sets.
And--by no coincidence at all--the category of "the fantastic" is about bad ideas. Otherwise the ideas wouldn't be called "fantastic" they'd be called "true". Fantasy is literally all about received ideas that we, by definition, no longer believe and threw out. There is no magic, there is nothing special about kings or clerics, the world isn't made of four elements, people aren't made of four humours, there's no such thing as a whole race being evil, Jews don't have horns. Signing up for the "the fantastic" is putting a sign on the door saying "Everything you're about to hear is bullshit". So policing the implications of fantasy is stupid: every idea in fantasy is awful.  Anyone mistaking any of it for philosophy is in desperate need of a parent or a psychiatrist.
I've told this story on the blog before:
The first time I saw this in the Met it was labeled "St George
Chesspiece". I asked, in an essay, "if St George is
your knight, what the hell does the rest
of the chess set look like? Is it all saints? Is your
king Jesus? It's either not St George or not a
chess piece." My teacher worked in the Met.
The next time I saw it, it was re-labeled.
Here's an interesting thing about Medieval art and our modern concept of The Fantastic:

We know for a fact that, for example, Dante Alighieri was genuinely a religious man. He would likely feel really bad--blasphemous, in fact--if he got the details of what Hell was like wrong. And Jesus fuck he had a lotta details.
Again: Monsters done well. People done poorly.
So what did he go on? Research? So far as we know: not really. He was something of a numerologist, but basically there are details of stuff in there that are obviously original to Dante. So was he like "Fuck it, I'll make something up, God won't notice. It's not like he sees all and knows all, right?"?
This is Scandinavian knotwork on this staff-end,
it's chunkier than Celtic tracery
Viking chest

No: here's what he and thousands of Medieval Christian artists probably thought "If I'm having this idea, it's probably because God gave it to me". Which is marvellous, as terrible ideas go: If you get an art idea, it's because you should get it.
Hey guys, lets make folding Marys!
God tell you to do that?
Alright. On it.
This is the world your players' D&D characters live in--even moreso than genuine Medieval people because your party has daily totally incontrovertible evidence of divine power in the form of the party cleric.

Everything, even a new thing, belongs. Something higher has ordained it. Mallory, Wagner and Tolkien mined the echoes of this idea very hard: everything, even the pettiest handicraft, even the pies and mutton, is mythic. Everything is, was and always will be basically this way. The only "future" (conceived as a time when things in general look different than they do now) is apocalyptic.
This is a strange psychoaesthetic trick: portraying the Middle Ages--which is actually a very distinct moment in the development of politics and technology on a very specific continent--as a sort of platonic eternal. It seems very natural to us, but it takes a certain kind of sleight of hand to look at something as complex and specific and historical as, say, a crossbow, and read it as a weapon in a mythic conflict. You couldn't imagine a fairy tale with an arquebus in it.
We don't know whether people back
then thought this guy looked funny.
But they might've: Chess is less
important than God, so the
chess piece carvers had a
freer hand. 
If the Lord meant for me to not Hobo and thence to Murder why would he put the idea in my head?

More Irish graphomania--
The Book of Kells
Hey let's keep water in a lion!
These shaped jugs are called "aquamaniles"
Often these unimportant domestic objects are
the most interesting. Art historians hate that.
The Tara Brooch. More insane Irish intricacy. This was before
whiskey had come to the Isles.
Bishop's grave

09 Sep 19:45

Ypres, Belgium new piece for this Colossal article.

Ypres, Belgium

new piece for this Colossal article.

05 Sep 09:02

Art History For D&D People, Course Overview

by Zak S
(First in a series)
I don't really do that many sweeping survey posts about art even though art's my job because whenever I say something like "Oh yeah, Franz Hals fuck him" someone in the comments always leaves some long thoughtful comment about their relationship to Franz Hals and it makes me forget that like that leaves 2,999 other regular blog readers having no idea what we're talking about.

But then Jez Gordon was like "Who's Egon Schiele?" and was like ok that's weird because clearly the artistic lineage there is:

Jez Gordon ---(influenced by)----> Late Frank Miller ----(influenced by) ----> Mid-era Bill Sienkiewicz ---(influenced by)----> Egon Schiele

...and so if one of the best emerging illustrators in the DIY D&D scene doesn't know his roots, then what about everybody else?

Plus it'll be fun. I like looking at pictures and I like thinking about pictures.

So I'm guessing/hoping this'll be a series of posts. I'm gonna just lay out here how I am thinking I'll organize the entries. I may not do them in order.
Ancient Art:
Blasphemous Things You Find In A Cave
3000 years of China Being Way Ahead of Everyone
Finnish Sculpture Paints That Culture As A Frozen Sinkhole Of Goggle-Eyed Madmen
Egypt: Not Always Boring
Meso-America: Let's Stack Things!
Greece And Rome: zzzzzzzzz

Medieval European Art:
Beyond Things With Weird Necks

Indian & Middle-Eastern Art of the Middle Ages:
Imposing a Sense of Bejewelled And Labyrinthine
Order On Every Fucking Thing

The Northern Renaissance & The International Style:
Way Better Than That Other Renaissance They Taught
You About In School
Painting & Printmaking in China and Japan:
Mountains, Mist, Nightmarish Tentacle-Porn
Precursor Things
Post-Renaissance But Pre-Modern Europe:
Guys Holding Swords They Probably Won't Use
Wood, Water, and Wire:
The Art That Freaked Colonialists Out
Decadent Art of the Call of Cthulhu Era:
Please Nobody Tell Wundergeek Europe Exists
Symbolism, Surrealism and Other
Products of Drug Abuse

Every Good Early Illustrator I Can Think Of:
A.K.A. The Post That Other DIY D&D People
Have Probably Already Done Better Than
Me But I Should Probably Do Anyway
Fine Art After WW2:
Actually, You Do Like Modern Art, It's Just
They Don't Want You To Know That
07 Sep 21:15

Ancient Art Is Basically Monsters

by Zak S
(Second in a series)
Many basic prejudices in the way art history is taught date back to when Giorgio Vasari invented the discipline, and one of the most consistent and least discussed is a prejudice against monsters.

The first sculpture you are typically shown in an art history class is the Venus of Willendorf--which is a lady--and the first paintings are the Lascaux cave paintings--which are some deer and some dudes.

These things are explicable. You can look at these images for a very dull three seconds and your teacher can very quickly move on to talking about what art history teachers love to talk about: any subject other than art. The Venus lets you talk about standards of beauty, fertility cults, matriarchal society, stone technology, the Lascaux paintings let you talk about hunting, shamanism, cave-dwelling, realism. Anything but what the goddamn things look like, which isn't much.

Art historians have always loved to talk about humanity--personalities and sociologies--which is a shame because throughout history many of the best artists were interested in something much less- and almost literally un- discussable: the unknown. Our ancestors who made art dedicated a vast quantity of that effort to monsters--hideous confabulated creatures that never existed anywhere but in the object that incarnates them.

It'd be overselling it to say the history of art is a history of monsters, but it is entirely accurate to say a history of monsters is a history of art.

Monsters have a specific interest to art theory outside RPG aesthetics: they are things that are made of (and only of) the medium that describes them. Like: a Lascaux horse is representation of a thing out there--a real horse. Whereas this:
(This is from Greenland.)

…is only this. It has no "real appearance" outside the ivory describing it. The artist themself might even think it is only a crude representation of a real thing that's out there, but there is no thing out there to check it against. In this way, monster art is actually closer to abstract art than it is to art representing animals and people. It goes where the mind does--like monsters do.

Monster art is thus uniquely psychological--in a way the more dutiful kinds of art have a tough time being.

Though even when not making monsters, our earliest artists had a beautiful knack of making everything look fucked up:
The traditional interpretation of this kind of art tends to basically be: inside every ancient artist is a little Italian Renaissance artist struggling to get out, very slowly. Do we have perspective yet? Do we have proper proportions yet? Are we doing individual people yet?

A more expressionist interpretation would be: look at that Sami sculpture on the far right. It's saying something already now. Something unique to it, like FUUUUCK I LIVE ON AN ICE PLANET AND I AM STARING AT THE SKY SCRAPING A ROCK WITH ANOTHER ROCK BECAUSE WHAT THE FUCK ELSE AM I GOING TO DO?

You never know what tribal and traditional art is supposed to be saying--and so it isn't discussed much--but what we here now feel it saying is just as important, or more. After all: that's what's actually happening now to you.

This is art by people who were at level of constant contact with their world (animals, weather, mud) that most of us can barely imagine and yet knew very little about the world (why animals? why weather? why mud?). A great deal of the art was guesses about the forces that dominated the world--attempts to assess it. They knew this: it was other and scary.

Our monsters now (virus zombie, berserk robot) tend to be errors in the natural order. Their monsters were the natural order.

Much of art history before modernism is a record of increasing realism and decreasing emotion. At least when we look at it with our 21st century eyes. The mainline of self-conscious art in China, Japan, India and Europe wouldn't have anyone as crazy as that guy on the far right for thousands of years.

Here are some more Cthulhoids from the Sami (the people from the extreme north of Scandinavia, sometimes called the Lapps):
There is a very special effect in this kind of art: I need to tell you a very specific thing and you will never know what it is.  These are the kinds of images from which pictograms and then written language sprang. It is like someone looking right into your eyes and repeating a sentence over and over in a language you don't know, with emphasis:
E'th'et Kaana F'Vor Est Ina.
E'th'et Kaana F'Vor Est Ina!
E'th'et Kaana F'Vor Est In-a!!!
…the actual ability to communicate is stunted but the intensity and particularity is what gives it power. Like: what is that long-legged doghead monster on the bottom right? Why does it have two rectangles sticking out of its back? What do all these other things going on have to do with it?

We don't know--and in that not knowing there is a wonderful freedom to just enjoy it. It is permanently exotic to us.

The earliest art of almost every part of the world is:

…and there are still cultures and artists that were producing work very much in this vein up until the 20th century--like the Greenland Inuit:

Here's a thing about ancient art:
It's fucking nuts. Artist historians and archaeologists go through and try to pick out repeated features and iconographies but what's more striking is how much stuff is just out of nowhere. Weird shapes or ways of assembling things that appear once or twice and disappear--seemingly unconnected to anything else before or since, like discarded mutations. All the bullshit about ancient aliens comes from how fucked this art is.

Let's take a look...

You can watch regional styles develop over the centuries--the looping animal motifs in Scythian art is remarkably consistent regardless of the medium:
One of the earliest tattoos--there are stags in there

The spur of the tattoo on the left appears to be a  hoof
Scythian stonework 
…however this is unusual: in most cases you can see the shapes in the art being formed by the materials the art is executed in. Does that mean the shapes in the stonework (and metalwork later) were derived from tattoo shapes? Hard to tell--the record of tattoos is frustratingly fragmentary: we occasionally get a glimpse of something unbelievably intricate and then nothing for thousands of years. There's a whole history of drawing there that's completely lost.

Here are some Serbian river gods from Lepenski Vir, carved from cobbles. The one on the far right looks particularly freaked out at being graven in stone...

Nobody in Italian Renaissance, Mannerist, Neoclassical, Pre-Raphaelite, Baroque, Roccocco or Impressionist art ever looks that freaked out. 

China, like I mentioned a few days ago, was always way ahead of everyone as this jade pig-dragon proves:

 …although this piece of Iranian proto-elamite silverwork, dating from 3000 BC is by far the most sophisticated thing going for a few hundred years:

While nobody knows what it is or means or who the bull is supposed to be, it points up a recurring theme in ancient art: almost everybody was better at making animals than people.

We all know what people in Egyptian art look like--they look the same for like 3000 years. The Egyptians produced what appears to be the most consistently conservative visual culture in human history. The animals, on the other hand, are generally more sensitive, dynamic, realistic and evocative:

Even sitting still, the back legs suggest the animal could spring forward at any second.

While nobody can know why this is, I have a pet theory. There are rules for depicting people--even today the way people are depicted is a subject of great debate among the ruling and scholarly classes. There are right ways and wrong ways to depict people--the depictions have conventions and rights and wrongs and get tied up with religious, hierarchical, and social codes. In Egypt the codes for depicting people were so strict that when, during the reign of Akhenaten, the codes were briefly relaxed, you can actually see a torrent of totally new styles emerge at shocking speed (and then disappear when the Akhenaten's reign ends). It is true that in some Islamic societies, depicting people was outright forbidden. The human figure is a locus of anxiety--so each culture tends, after a few thousand years, to find a way to depict people and then sticks to it.

Which is not to say these codified ways are universally boring--the Mehrgarh people of the Indus Valley (in modern day Pakistan) decided people looked like oozing freaks:

Anyone whose ever rolled and coiled Play-Doh can see where the characteristic shapes of Mehrgarh terracotta came from.

Japan's earliest consistent and identifiable culture--the Jomon--seem to have developed these distinctive and fantastically stylized figures by deriving human shapes from jug or water-vessel shapes:

China, meanwhile, was deep into bronze--and they already had dynasties and shit with Kings with actual names and stuff, like the Shang and Zhou. Bronze is a big deal, and very flexible. One way to tell early Chinese artifacts apart from Mesoamerican ones are the thin, tapering lines--like on the bottom of the handle of this zoomorphic jug:

 …or on this elephant's trunk:
 …bronze will hold its shape even with these tenuous lines, unlike stone or wood which would snap right off if it was that thin.

Linear complexity is a knock-on effect of the hardness of the material you're using.  If elves were using mithril, that explains those scrolling 19th-century shapes they've got worked into their arms and armor.
…which is not to say mesoamerica wasn't making anything good. In fact, for variety of materials and morphologies (including in the people) it's hard to beat mesoamerican stuff:

This is Coatlique--she has 2 snake heads

Jade masks from Mexico

That nose and those fingers look like nothing else you'll see--
if you find a museum with Colombian or Peruvian art in it
I guarantee you'll see something totally out of left field every
few minutes.

Bat monster
Meanwhile, the Celts were largely ignoring people and developing a mania for linework that wouldn't stop til after Aubrey Beardsley…

And, yeah, there was ancient Greece and Rome. Greek art is generally broken into 4 periods:
Geometric (stiff people with triangle bodies), Archaic (endlessly repeated sculptures of little boys with wavy hair and dumb eyes), Classical (Venus De Milo and whatnot) and Hellenistic. The Hellenistic is the only good one--this was the period where the skills developed during the Classical era were used to present subjects with far more intensity. Here's an old woman:
Even then, the majority of it is pretty stiff--especially compared to what folks like Michaelangelo,  Bernini and Houdon would do with the whole Realism-In-Marble thing hundreds of years later.

The Paracas Culture on the other hand, was having crazy fun:

click to enlarge the madness
You'll notice it looks like pixel art--that's because it essentially is--in needlework, each area is a dot of color. These figures were assembled color by color, square by square.
The Zapotec made some fucking intense monsters--the stone-born simplicity of the constituent shapes makes them far scarier than their curlicued Chinese equivalents.

There's something very modern about the way pre-Columbian cultures just let the materials be the materials--letting the form emerge out of the shapes, colors and textures the images are made from:

This blue nosed guy is apparently a "functionary". It's all very Tekumel: a clearly complicated society, but one with rules and codes we can't begin to guess.
Click on that and enlarge it--that rabbit at the bottom could've been drawn yesterday. And the complexity of the visual space with those stacked floors and ceilings is pretty dungeony.

This is also the period where the largest artworks in the world were made: the mysterious Nazca drawings of animals--only legible from the air. However, there were other giant earth drawings--my favorite is the Atacama Giant from Argentina:

You'll notice African stuff is conspicuous by its absence from this entry (also the art of Oceania, Australia, America, and Southeast Asia)--this is because the majority of the most interesting work was made in wood--which doesn't last long. Because of that, most of the best examples of African art are actually from the past two centuries--the compelling Nok head above being a relatively rare exception. We'll take a look at it later.

20 Aug 03:30

Since succubi can fly, how do they deal with drag? How many Gs can they handle during aerobatics? And since they don't have ailerons and flaperons and vertical fins - how do they do the manoeuvring at high altitude when caught by strong airflows?

Why do I have this feeling this is a monty python and the holy grail sort of question?

What is the air-speed velocity of unladen Succubi?

What do you mean? Asian or European Succubi?

Huh? I… I don’t know that. AUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGHHH!!

How do you know so much about Succubi?

Well, you have to know these things when you’re the Queen, you know.

But I digress… and I’m being silly, but that’s… another story…

Considering that the wings of Succubi are similar to that of angels (and really they are, whether feathered bird like or bat like or really any sort of wings) they would have to work in the same way wouldn’t they?

Turns and so on are done by bending the shape of the wing, which would have to be an inherent skill they have. As for drag, g-forces, and so on, it would be the application of some of the magic within themselves to create a bubble around their bodies that protects them from the harm such things might cause… That bubble would adhere and shape to their bodies, likely, again, an inherent skill or ability…

And now I have this sudden idea for a story to tell on Monday… Mebby…

As for the question, thank you Anon! I thought that was an really interesting question!



Queen of the Succubi

07 Feb 19:34

Come Holy Ghost A setting of the Latin Mass for jazz/rock combo...

by joberholtzer

Come Holy Ghost

A setting of the Latin Mass for jazz/rock combo and full choir.

Tumblr has spoken!

"a haunting combination of sacred chamber music and jazz (I know, right?)"joshsundquist
"seriously my album of the year, guys."countingnothings
"yooooo this album is pretty cool"sexyboitommo
"I need to pigeonhole it, but it can’t be done!" – tumble-pie
"kinda exciting"thecalmthestorm
"You just don’t hear music like this anymore"lyebymistake
"Jason Oberholtzer is so fucking talented I can’t stand it."rachelfershleiser

Two bits of great news, guys!

1) My album is streaming for free on bandcamp!

2) The double vinyl, 180 gram 45rpm LP copies of the album finally arrived, and they sound absolutely beautiful. For what it’s worth (hopefully something), it’s my favorite format to listen to the album, so I’m thrilled to be able to share. If you like what you hear on the stream, please consider picking up the vinyl, so you can hear my saucy piano playing the way it was intended to be heard. 

09 Dec 06:16

A Modest Request For Help

by jon


This is a comic I did not want to have to draw, and a post I did not want to have to write. But here we are. You guys have been a great audience for almost seventeen years now, and without your support I never would have had this career. But I’ve reached a point where I can’t rely on the income I make from the strip to cover all of my expenses.

These are not crazy expenses. I’m not an extravagant person. I don’t go out, I don’t buy lots of jewelry or yachts. My major concerns are paying for my kids’ day care, my mortgage and my car payments.

Way back in Olden Times, many artists could rely on support from a patron; someone with mad ducats who would pay the bills so the artist could concentrate on making art. In that spirit, the good people at Patreon have introduced a tool that allows artists to crowdsource the patronage model. Rather than depending on a single individual to do the heavy lifting, it allows lots of people to each contribute a small amount.

There are a lot of SFAM readers. Between the people who read the strip on the website and through various social media outlets, there are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 daily readers. If every one of those readers contributed just a dollar a month, my financial troubles would be a thing of the past.

I’m not asking for that, though. I know even a dollar a month is a difficult thing to ask for from many of you, and that’s okay. But if you enjoy SFAM and you’d like to see it continue, please consider becoming one of those dollar-a-month patrons. If only 2,000 of you pitch in a buck each month, that (in addition to my merchandise sales and ad revenue) will be enough to create that cushion of stability I need to keep things going. If 4,000 of you contribute, I’ll even be able to increase my comics output.

Patreon’s tools allow you to set a patronage level for each piece of published content. They also allow you to set a maximum monthly donation so you’re not overcharged if I make a whole lot of comics one month. I suggest you set the maximum donation to the same amount as your monthly patronage level. That way, you won’t be charged per comic — just one time a month at a small, predictable level.

Patreon also allows me to give small rewards to patrons at different contribution levels. Current rewards include custom haikus, sketches, original art, access to occasional comic-drawing streams and Google hangouts and more. As a patron, you’ll also have access to any bonus content I create, like extra comics, wallpapers, illustrations and such.  I’ll add more rewards and reward levels as I think ‘em up.

But the real reward here is more comics for you, every month. I want to keep making them for you. I want to keep drawing. In a very real way, you guys are my collective employer. All I’m asking for is continued employment and a living wage. If you can help out with that, you will have my eternal gratitude.

No matter how this plays out, I want to thank all of you for your incredible support over the last seventeen years and for letting me do this thing that I love for so long. It has been a true honor.

If you have any thoughts or concerns, please email me or tweet at me and I’ll do my best to address them.

14 Jun 14:45

camsinternetbrain: Something to help people just getting into...

by joberholtzer


Something to help people just getting into Game of Thrones.

12 Apr 02:50

mental_floss: What's the Real Origin of "OK"? —

mental_floss: What's the Real Origin of "OK"? —
11 Apr 15:01

mental_floss: The Secret Origins of 11 Famous Video Games —

mental_floss: The Secret Origins of 11 Famous Video Games —
11 Apr 14:09

mental_floss: 11 Rejected Canadian Flag Designs —

mental_floss: 11 Rejected Canadian Flag Designs —
11 Apr 13:06

mental_floss: 11 "Schoolhouse Rock!" Hits —

mental_floss: 11 "Schoolhouse Rock!" Hits —
11 Apr 05:33

mental_floss: 11 Brilliantly Inaccurate Scientific Explanations —

mental_floss: 11 Brilliantly Inaccurate Scientific Explanations —
11 Apr 04:02

mental_floss: 11 Totally Redundant Place Names —

mental_floss: 11 Totally Redundant Place Names —
11 Apr 00:16

mental_floss: Today's top story: 10 Old Sayings We Need to Bring Back —

mental_floss: Today's top story: 10 Old Sayings We Need to Bring Back —
08 Apr 16:15

mental_floss: 8 Real Places That Inspired Superhero Headquarters —

mental_floss: 8 Real Places That Inspired Superhero Headquarters —
08 Apr 14:15

mental_floss: Where Did the Phrase “Dressed to the Nines” Come From? —

mental_floss: Where Did the Phrase “Dressed to the Nines” Come From? —
08 Apr 06:39

mental_floss: Ferruccio Lamborghini got his start in the tractor business.

mental_floss: Ferruccio Lamborghini got his start in the tractor business.
08 Apr 05:03

mental_floss: An early duty of the Best Man was to serve as armed backup for the groom, in case he had to resort to kidnapping his intended bride.

mental_floss: An early duty of the Best Man was to serve as armed backup for the groom, in case he had to resort to kidnapping his intended bride.
08 Apr 01:58

mental_floss: 10 of History's Most Expensive Typos — #bestoftheweek

mental_floss: 10 of History's Most Expensive Typos — #bestoftheweek
04 Apr 12:50

Succubi Image of the Week 274

by TeraS

For this week’s Succubus, I found a really deliciously evil image on Hentai Foundry, She’s sexy, she’s quite red, and I think she’s the image of a classic Succubus… There aren’t a lot of those that I like and I really do like this one a lot…

New Demon Girl by creativeodditiesstudios

New Demon Girl by creativeodditiesstudios

This art is called New Demon Girl and is by Creative Oddities Studios. You can find the original page on Hentai Foundry with this art here.

I love her boots and gloves, they really go nicely with her red skin I think… A sexy cute tail is a bonus of course and I even think her wings suit her perfectly. Her horns are a bit large for me and I never really have liked bands or other things wrapped about Succubi tails, but, again, in this case everything just seems to be perfect for her…

Especially her hair, which is just delicious and makes the image for me…

I think there is a story around her, possibly something a bit on the Domme side, or a lot so. I do wonder though if she wouldn’t look better wearing something and not being nude as she is here. I think a little bit of something latex like on her would have added to the seductiveness of this Succubus…

Nevertheless, she is wonderful and I love her a bunch.

Lovely sexy Succubus and I’m really happy that I found her too…



28 Mar 05:01

Your Type – DORK TOWER 28.03.13

by John Kovalic

Super Happy First Day Fun Hour

25 Mar 12:12

Ask By TeraS

by TeraS

This week I didn’t have the time to write for Storm Clouds as I had hoped to. Some know the reason why, and it is a good reason.

Perhaps this short thing can explain it some…

Storm Clouds will return next week all things willing once more…





By TeraS


If you ask him, he’d tell you about me. It’s never about him. He doesn’t see a need to point to himself, to try to bring attention to himself. That just isn’t who he is.


If you questioned why he doesn’t act in a certain way, he’d tell you that he’s never seen the need. To be the be all or end all does not allow him to be who he is.


If you asked how he can accept his Queen being everywhere and everywhen, he’d tell you that he always knows where I am. He’s comfortable with who I am and why.


If you asked enough questions of him, you might begin to understand what I see in him. What brought us together and made us both whole.


If you could see what I see, you would understand why he is my Eternal.


If you could know what I know, you would believe why he was the one to be.


If you could believe as I do, you would see there is a thing as just knowing.


If you could understand as I do, you wouldn’t have to ask at all.


He is with me always.


He never leaves my thoughts.


He stands with me when I am alone.


He protects me without asking.


I am with him now, always and forever.


I am always his.


I feel his love within me, never fading.


I know nothing shall part us.


Words cannot explain what he means to me.


Words are shadows of the truth we know.


Words like forever, always, eternally, are not enough.


Words only hint at our truth.


The day we came together …


… the day that our lives changed …


… the day that souls became one and the universe changed …


that day is, forever, our day.


23 Mar 12:39

An interesting Morrigan Aensland artwork YouTube…

by TeraS

I found another work in progress YouTube of a Morrigan Aensland drawing and so, since she is one of the most popular Succubi there are…

And in case you can’t see it here:

And one screenshot of the art as well, which is by an artist named Seraz…

Now this isn’t the completed art, but if you want to see that, you can visit the artist’s website here and the page with this work completed is here as well.

I think that this is quite a lovely image of Morrigan, it’s sexy and not too much over endowed, which I think is always a good thing then it comes to Morrigan Aensland myself…

Lots of lovely art can be found on their site and I hope you have a look!