I Hate These Things (or) rowntRee is wrong-tRee

I can’t believe it was only a month ago that I was strolling the convention floor at the BrickSlopes LEGO fan event accompanied by famous bon-vivant Matt rowntRee.  Since it was a relatively small convention, we were afforded the opportunity to evaluate just about everything the attendant AFOLs had to offer.  Not content to just smile and nod, we enjoyed a running commentary that was equal parts praise, smack and non sequiturs.  I estimate we were in violent agreement about 90% of the time when it came to constructive criticism, with only a few models that we couldn’t come to a consensus on.  There was however a single display that sparked a spirited debate and made me question the sensibilities, judgement and perhaps even sanity of our good friend rowntRee.  I don’t want to skewer the responsible builder, because that would be a jackassy thing to do (even for me) and the blame-finger shouldn’t be pointed in his direction, but rather towards a hipster German advertising agency.  In 2012 the Jung von Matt agency out of Hamburg released a minimalistic ad campaign for LEGO. The “Imagine” series features iconic cartoon characters from American pop culture represented in simplistic stacks of 2×2 brick and plate.  I have no idea who these particular stacks are supposed to represent, but you get the idea.

lego_smurfs-600x424

That’s right, its just a stack of bricks and plates….nothing more.  It isn’t clever, it isn’t interesting, it’s a slick ad campaign at best and moronic over simplification at worst.  I understand the point they are making about taking the most basic LEGO parts and turning them into something iconic, but that doesn’t make the end result any less lame.  This is the artistic equivalent of drawing stick-figures or making a friendship bracelet.  Watch the video, constant reader and just “imagine” how pretentious the good folks at Jung von Matt can make these stacks of brick seem.  This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live parody commercial it’s so dumbed down and could the narrator possibly sound more British?

Now “imagine” a bunch of sweaty mankinder decide it’s actually cool and they go out and cover entire convention tables with stacks of 2×2 bricks. We even give them uninspired names like “Block Buddies” and “Brick Buddies” because everything needs to have “brick” in the title if it’s associated with the hobby: BrickLink, BrickJournal, Bricks by the Bay.  If I was thinking straight, I should have called this site the KeithBrick Manifesto for maximum marketability.  Now, “imagine” those same sweaty Mankinder rushing to be the first to stamp their names over all the familiar fanboy franchises.  because if you can be the first to slap your watermark on Brick-Buddy Harry Potter, just “imagine” the kudos that will rain down upon you and how much credit you’ll receive.  Now, “Imagine” how terribly boring it all is, even when the builders break the simplicity of the “standard” altogether and start adding appendages and accessories.  You just can’t put lipstick on a pig and the more the standard morphs the worse it becomes.  Can you possibly “Imagine” how much this fad makes me want to slit my wrists.

Now “imagine” we’re back at the convention and Matt rowntRee defending the table full of row after row of stacked columns of 2×2 brick.  I’m pretty sure he used words like “clever“, “iconic” and “endless variation with a limited palette“.  He also seemed to think it was cool that the display was interactive, that public day attendees would love to play a game called guess the stack of bricks?  Is that black stack of bricks Blade or Darth Vader?  I didn’t hang around the table of Brick Buddies during public hours so I’m not sure if that’s a thing or not, but it sounds dreadfully boring.  Listen Matt, just because I can identify roughly half of those 2×2 brick stacks on the table doesn’t make it clever, it just means I’ve been programmed to identify Robin, especially when he’s standing in between the Batman and Wonder Woman.

6885288560_48aca6f33d_o

Of course, the first builder that popped up when I searched “Brick Buddies, Justice League” was Simon Liu.  Get out of my head Liu, I can’t take it anymore!  Once again, it’s six degrees of separation with Simon. I should have known he’d be down with Brick Buddies.  This photo has over ten thousand views!  I don’t get it.

So go ahead rowntRee, defend your patently crazy viewpoint in the comments section.  Tell me again how this is actually genius level art and I’m too dismissively highbrow?  Just “imagine” that I’m open-minded enough to consider your nonsense counter-argument.

I anticipate the following reaction from many of you: “who cares, let them do their thing” or “I think it’s cute“.  Yes, it’s true, everyone has the right to build whatever they want, I acknowledge that to be self-evident.  However, it doesn’t stop the Brick Buddies from being tragically, irredeemably lame and when we fill our tables with them at conventions it makes us all look like a bunch of simpletons.

 

57 thoughts on “I Hate These Things (or) rowntRee is wrong-tRee

  1. I have to say I completely agree about these things. They’re nothing more than a one shot gimmick – it was indeed clever and funny the first time I saw them, but then it just got ridiculous. Hell, maybe what ruined them and made them boring is exactly the following they got; if I saw one of this every once in a while I would have thought “Heh, neat” (that about the most intense reaction I can see anyone having from them) and moved on. But they’re everywhere.

    Here’s where I find the biggest fault with these – they’re all about you, the viewer. If you’re not familiar with the source material – it’s just a bunch of stacked bricks, there’s nothing left to appreciate there. Which in my eye tells everything about their value. Take any other type of build, even miniland which relies a lot on suggestion, you still can find something there without being familiar with “the franchise”. You can still figure out what the heck it is. In fact this is pretty much what this things are, a severly dumbed down miniland figure. You could achieve the same thing with a bunch of colored crayons and a piece of paper.

    To take matt’s idea, “endless variation with a limited palette”? Sure, I can’t deny that, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t involve any creativity whatsoever anymore – you just switch colors according to the characters you choose and hope they work. That’s it, that’s the brilliance?

    So to summarize, the idea behind this technique was indeed pretty ingenious, I won’t deny that. But the following? Nah. Compared to any other fad, like brickheadz or whatever, which followed a set of rules but involved actual building and creativity, all these things involve is replacing colors and adjusting heights.

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    1. I guess the only place we differ is that I didn’t ever find them funny or clever. I think you’re right though, it wasn’t the initial creation it was the over saturation by LEGO nerds that came later. They do manage to make Minilanders seem exotic and complex. Thanks for the comment L’etranger, you always add to the dialogue in a meaningful way.

      You’re a bit like Simon lately, I can’t go to any LEGO related website without encountering one of your models. I saw your mushroom cloud model on TBB, well done! You’re having some kind of creative explosion right now and we’re all better for it.

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  2. As someone who has also had the pleasure of traipsing around convention halls with Matt, I think I too would have disagreed with him on this. I admit that I enjoyed this idea the first time I saw it but wow, I have no desire to see a table full of these stacks. There’s definitely a point where a gimmick is taken too far and it sounds from your description that Brickslopes was the place.

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    1. It’s tough for BrickSlopes because they are an up and coming convention so they are really in no position to turn away models to fill up tables. To be fair, some people really seem to dig these brick-stacks and you can’t really tell people not to bring them, it’s not a good look. I also see these things every convention I attend, I’ve just never seen them so concentrated before and I couldn’t handle the action.

      Traipsing around the hall with rountRee is one of the singular delights of convention going and I hope to do it many more times. Despite his lack of taste on this issue, I’ve rarely encountered a cat who puts more thought into the work of others. Good times!

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  3. Keith, instead of choosing between your two titles… I am going to embrace both. I think you DO hate these things, and I also think rowntRee IS wrong. I will not ascribe to the artificial dichotomy built into your own polar thinking!

    I don’t dig these either. I mean, it’s a stack of bricks for gods sake!

    But in your treatment of the topic you fail to acknowledge some facts that are relevant. I say relevant because if you are going to attack something (and you know I’m down with that!) then you need to make sure to fully acknowledge any strengths the target may have. Many of these facts are implied in the information you provide, but again, just to be fair, I think you should have catalogued them. Know thy enemy.

    1. These things did INSPIRE. They didn’t inspire you, but lots of other people. INSPIRATION = GOOD.

    2. These things stimulated DIALOGUE. They are still doing it… right here, right now! DIALOGUE = GOOD.

    3. They are cheap and easy to REPRODUCE at home with your own kids. For an add campaign (an important qualifier!) those are important and positive traits. REPRODUCIBLE = GOOD.

    4. Fad, craze, trend… All suggest IMPACT on the population. These things correspond with at least ONE of those labels. IMPACT = GOOD.

    5. Plus… Batman!

    There are probably some other factual observable strengths to this unfortunate build criteria, but my point is just that there are SOME. It’s not about thinking positive. Not about the silver lining. It’s about objectivity.

    Agreed. rowntRee is a wing-nut. Probably has an exaggerated soft spot for anything that leads to Art. Maybe not a soft spot but more like a rash? And yea… I want to hear his defense of the terms you recall him using.

    RowntRee! Bring it! You tortured ar-teest!

    And I agree again, your not going to catch me lauding these colored bars as emblematic of the fusion of simplicity and beauty! That would be the AK-47! But these things? These striped pillars? These dueling salt and pepper and nutmeg shakers? Touch not the unclean thing!

    And yes… the only thing lamer than this building criteria is deciding to build these things and then NOT FOLLOWING THE CRITERA. Hats? Limbs? Just jump the artificial evolution and build a miniland figure!

    And yes… Liu is everywhere. I’m telling you: it’s his incredible velocity that allows him to seem to be everywhere at once!

    Above all though, prior to the attack, you should attempt an objective and exhaustive inventory of the targets strengths. It’s an important part of target analysis.

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    1. You mistake my intentions, good sir, this article was never meant to be objective or a rational acknowledgment of relevant facts. This is an accusatory rant, an emotional attack, and my treatment of any opposing viewpoints is spurious at best. Get out of here with your objectivity! Or do you secretly embrace the Brick Buddies! Aha! Now we know the truth. Did I just spoil your big collaboration for next year?

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  4. First off, I blame Simon.

    Secondly, let me clarify that I am more often wrong than not. So I’ve got that going for me. 😀

    Thirdly, I agree. But I still contend that they are clever in the same respect that Minimalism was a clever movement in art, but that was a reaction to other forms at the time and a celebration of the notion of perfection in manufacturing form. These figures respect that idea and celebrate it to an extent. It becomes approachable, more than Minimalist ever was, in that it also recollects and relies on trivia, culture, and nostalgia. And L’etranger taps into this notion well by saying that they are all about the viewer. And the issue is completely valid. When the conversation takes only one path, then it gets really boring really quick. And that’s what happens here. The conversation relies on a trivial, cultural, nostalgic connection that, if not shared or known, dies immediately. I can definitely concede that these should die quickly, especially the Smurf one at the top (god I hate those damn things.)

    Going through the art aspect of these, I will say that they are neither good nor bad art just as the Pet Rock was neither a good or bad pet. These are amoebas; they’re just there. Buuuuut… They still start the conversation. The problem is that the conversation is really dull and non-existent in the end. Clever? Definitely. Art? Sure. Minimalist tapping into the collective conscious? You bet. Fun? Not really. Funny? I guess. Challenging? Momentarily. Engaging? Nope. NPU? Shut the fuck up, Mike. Easy to replicate for ALL age and experience groups? Absolutely. Insulting to the hobby? No. Possibilities for game play? Good god NO. Lame? Pretty much. Cute? I hate cute. Necessary? Absofuckinglutely!

    In all art forms there has existed a movement to reduce; to deconstruct the thought, the conversation, the work to its most elemental parts. That is not lazy mind you but rather experimental. Miniland scale can be considered in this vein; however, it has proven to be a whole hell of a lot more intricate and detailed than can be catalogued as such. I think these Brick Buddies are doing exactly what they need to do by saying that, yes, these are identifiable figures in the most minimalist way. I suspect that the next movement will be done with 1×1 bricks and plates just to see if it’s possible at an even smaller scale (of course it is, please do not try.)

    But it has been done now, and it is time to move on. I recognize this to be a type of growing pain for LEGO as art. And like any movement, bowel or otherwise, it too shall pass. And hopefully soon.

    Great examination, Keith! And I didn’t use the word “zeitgeist” anywhere like some deus ex machina. XD

    I think we need to reexamine the SIX degrees of Simon; I’m thinking it needs to be reduced to two. I think we can all blame Simon yet again. 😉

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    1. More meaningless words, you and Rutherford should get a room. I’m reminded of the intro to “The Road Warrior”:

      “Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. Cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men.”

      No well reasoned argument or “facts” can dilute my hatred for these brick-stacks. You can take your big-city art school talk and go back to New York City!

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      1. Dude, I’m the Pace picante sauce of the art world! 😀

        All those art fascist, thesaurus fetishist, masturbatory nimrods actually continue to believe the relevance of things like this only because they already made, and continue to make a fortune preying on the weaker minds because it matches the damn couch. They can’t move on because their psychobabble floweth over with inane words like “zeitgeist” and “deus ex machina.” Throw in a “juxtaposition” and you’ve earned a first class ticket to the art hell that is New York City. In their case, they don’t celebrate it, they regurgitate it. THAT is lazy, not exploratory (not only that, they usually get someone like me to actually build their crap anyway because they lack any skill whatsoever.) The fact that these things keep showing up is an abomination at best in the same exact way. As for your hatred of these things, I not only understand the sentiment but I also share it as well. I think the last thing I want to see is a convention devoted entirely to Brick Buddies. That, and Mike in a bear skin loincloth and a gold cravat, again.

        These things have their place in LEGO lore. They were a fad. And the two MOST important things of any fad are the day you get in and the day you get out. These have run their course and the well is plenty dry. All we can do is acknowledge their place, good or bad, and move on. Same with the Minimalists. Yup, aaaand done.

        It would NOT be a shame to blaow it up.

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      2. I hope you’re not forcing me to take this topic seriously, because that would be a shame and take all the fun out of ranting. Yes, the original concept is clever, it was produced by a slickster advertising agency and I’m not surprised in the slightest that Lego bought into it. Yes it was a legitimate fad/craze and a lot of builders I respect had a go at it. Yes minimalism has value….

        Wait a minute.

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      1. Aw hell no. Don’t take the topic seriously. It would detract from the rant. I do the same with Avatar every chance I get! Rant away.

        You’re going down, Brick Buddies!

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    2. “First off, I blame Simon”

      Yes!

      “Necessary? Absofuckinglutely!”

      Necessary. Mmmm. I’m giving you a maybe on that one. It feels odd to me, looking at it as necessary or unnecessary. I need to chew on that for a bit.

      “of course it is, please do not try.”

      Succinct! Excellent!

      ” I think we can all blame Simon yet again.”

      Yes!

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  5. Stuff like this reminds me of Duchamp and his idea that art has evolved from traditional execution to pure decision by the artist that what they display (and interpretation by the viewer) is in fact art. He then hung urinals and upside down shovels on the wall and called it a day. If the urinal was actively plumbed, at least it would have served a point. Perhaps if these Brick Buddies were some sort of sabot-esque suppositories, they would also benefit from at least a practical function.

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    1. Duchamp was a loon. A genius loon, but a loon nonetheless. What he did with the urinal was force himself to deny his own artistic language. However, in doing so, he created a new language. It was the double edged urinal cake and people latched onto it as the new fad and that everyone is a “special snowflake” of art. It still exists and is actually perpetuated and glorified in art school. The concept is enough, screw all that ability crap. Just hire matt to make the damn thing.

      Oh, and this you beautiful poet:

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      1. Wait! Wait wait wait… when you say “Duchamp was a loon” don’t you really mean LOONEY!

        Regard!

        Is that what King was all about with this character? I mean… am I the last guy to figure this out?

        “The Count of MontyCrisco… by Alexade… Dumbass!”

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      2. I knew a guy in high-school once who took a urinal cake out of the men’s room, sanded it into the shape of a heart and dipped it in chocolate for his valentine who recently cheated on him.

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    2. Wow, I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t familiar with Duchamp and what a rabbit hole that was. I found out I’m really not comfortable with saying “dada, or dadaism”. Should have found a better name for that art movement. The urinal display was interesting I guess, but that kind of art always leaves me vaguely irritated. Sabot-esque suppositories? I know some Lego nerds are anal retentive, but that’s taking it to a whole new and disgusting level. I’m just glad you didn’t employ ‘slurry’ again in that sentence. Every comment from you is a delight, mon frere.

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  6. First of all, these intrigued me for the sole reason that Batman is exactly a plate taller than his cohorts.

    I have viewed these before with less than enthusiasm. I’ll just call it ambivalence. You can’t really create GLaDOS or Wheatley with these, so I’m content to leave them alone.

    I can’t say I hate them. But I can say I’m glad no one’s started using headlight bricks with mixel eyes yet.

    Has anyone tried building an Avatar cast with these? Even Matt might change his opinion if that happened…

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    1. Vakkron!

      “I can’t say I hate them.”

      Yes! Yes you can! I know you can! I believe in your inner hate. Now, call upon that power. The power of hate…Say you hate them! Say it now Vakkron!

      I’m saying it right now… say it with me.

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    2. “I can’t say I hate them. But I can say I’m glad no one’s started using headlight bricks with mixel eyes yet.”

      Now just you wait a minute. I know what I’m building next. Screw what I said before, these things are brilliant! I’ll even add domesies!

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  7. I hate these. When you tell people that you build with Lego as a hobby, this is what they immediately think of: https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/funny-boy-playing-lego-28725194.jpg

    Never mind what’s been showcased here: half naked women, a dildo ship, satan, owls. Just kids stacking blocks without rhyme or reason. Look, he’s making a Brick Buddy too! I know I sound like an Aspergian elitist, but it really doesn’t help the perception of AFOLs.

    But a very well written rant all the same, keith.

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    1. “I hate these.”

      Juan, that is a fine opening line!

      Vakkron! I want you to shadow Juan for a while. Take copious notes!

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    2. Thank you Juan! That link is exactly the message the brick buddies send out to the wider world. When you catalogue all the topics we’ve covered like that it makes me feel like a proud papa. Hurray for dildo ships, owls and satan! Thanks my friend, it’s always good to see a comment pop up from you.

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  8. I was speed-walking through Centre Georges Pompidou in 1993, twenty minutes before closing time and twelve hours before I left Paris, and I hit the Duchamp room and had to stop. No urinal, but four objects from everyday life enshrined as art. The one I remember best was the top of a hat rack, separated from its base and hanging askew from a wire. A five-way unilaterally symmetrical headless octopus, moseying down into the depths.

    A friend once said that Duchamp’s triumph was not getting paid for a urinal, but demonstrating that beauty in form can be anywhere, if you’re paying enough attention to see it. Every day you see things — coffee pots, car fenders, light posts — that could be in a museum, surrounded in whispers and the subjects of thoughtful gazing.

    Not these stupid bricks stacks though. Fuck ‘em.

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    1. Centre Georges Pompidou in 93′ you say? Why good fellow we must have passed like two ships in the night! In 93′ I was in the daily habit of perusing the attached Bibliothèque publique d’information, how ironic!

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  9. Man, such intense feelings from everyone on these.

    I guess I’m not too aware of these, as a “thing” or as a fad. I like to think I’m up on the Lego Fads…but this one pretty much eluded me. I’ve seen some of these before, but I had no idea they were a fad. I don’t love them, per se, but I don’t hate them. I will say, I think the initial idea was clever.

    However, what is insane to me is that when I read this article and saw the first picture, it was the Smurfs. The recognition was instantaneous. To me, these fall into two categories…categories that are going to differ for every person…those I instantly recognize, and those I do not. Yes, this has been pointed out. And I’m sure it’s cultural, but the fact is that I do find it extremely interesting that someone can dumb down something into a 2×2 stack of plates, and yet I instantly recognize what it is they are representing. That is the most intriguing aspect of these, at least to me.

    Ultimately though, this could happen with or without these being Lego, and that’s where I fall as “meh” on the entire concept.

    One could kitbash something together using models kits to closely replicate some piece of work that they’re attempting to represent…or, one could do it with Lego, which I personally find to be uniquely challenging…and I’m blown away by it.

    These stacks though, conveniently, could have been done with markers or any other medium, and the same effect would have been achieved. Distilling the figures down to simple boxes is interesting I suppose, but to me, the fact that it could have been another medium that produced the same results is why, at least to me, the stacks are “meh”.

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  10. Meh, that’s the best you can do….meh? I find your response to be utterly rational and well constructed, rendering it null and void for purposes of this conversation. Join the mob, grab a pitchfork or GTFO!

    I thought they were just “meh” too, another annoying fad that I felt zero connection to and then I saw a table full of them and my “meh” turned to full blown anger. Seeing them all there in perfect, meaningless rows made me want to snap them in half and recombine them into nonsensical stacks to befuddle further viewers. Maybe there is some art in there somewhere if in evoked such a visceral reaction.

    But then again…no.

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    1. Actually…

      Now this might be a fun little psychological experiment. Build completely unrecognizable characters and let the audience never figure it out or tell the audience what they are supposed to be going against any preconceived ideas. Or build historical figures that have absolutely zero recognition like Genghis Khan, Helen of Troy, Alexander the Great, the Marquis de Sade. Oooooh, Mohamed! Maybe not. You could saturate the genre with absurdity effectively negating any relevance.

      Or we could just ignore it and hope that it all goes away.

      I suppose if anything, Brick Buddies give the 2×2 brick its fifteen minutes.

      Like

      1. Actually…

        I had my own admittedly disgusting attack of “the clevvers” when I thought: “Hey, what if you stacked three black 2x2s then a flesh tone 2×2, and then one more black 2×2… and call it:
        Abe Lincoln.
        And then replicate it and call it:
        Amish Guy
        And then replicate it and call it:
        Al Yankovic as an Amish guy
        and then replicate it and call it:
        Smoking Guy from the Xfiles
        and then replicate it and call it:
        a G Man
        And then replicate it and call it:
        Imperial Officer
        and then replicate it and call it:
        Navy SEAL
        and then replicate it and call it:
        British SAS
        and then replicate it and call it:
        GSG9
        and then replicate it and call it:
        Stealers Fan
        and then replicate it and call it:
        Mormon guy
        and then replicate it and call it:
        Other Mormon guy
        and then replicate it and call it a day…

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      2. Do you have any access to your bricks, because you should get on that post-haste. I hate to admit when you have a good idea, but damn it…”you’re good”.

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  11. What is the art here, the idea, the simplicity and the remarkability alongside our conditioned perception of the pop culture figures being depicted? This level of reflection is the more interesting part. Hence the previously mentioned Duchamp ref might apply. But for me Duchamp and many other artists from that time like Merz and Malewitsch and later Warhol and the Minimal Art movement mark a turning point of art itself being solely in the mind of the theorists and the intellectual conditioned audience. A nice idea missing direct empathic contact of art and it’s root in daily life IMO.
    Without going further into depth I agree that the initial idea is great and has it’s value but everything which follows is a copy of a copy of a copy…. bandwagon style. Just like 99% of any art and visual aesthetics. It also has it’s function, but if not overcome and further developed pretty lame by itself.

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    1. Cole! It’s always a delight to see your name pop-up in the comments. I think you’re absolutely right, the initial idea was interesting because of the conditioned perception it relies on. The real problem lies in the mindless bandwagon duplication by people who are capable of greater creative efforts. It’s harmless but when you see a big display of them it looks vulgar and more than a little sad.

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  12. PS. This fad could also be named attack of the clones ;p
    Rutherford, I like your take and the idea is brilliant and would do exactly what is necessary, use the idea, exaggerating it to the grotesque and open new ways! Now do a brick style version and showcase it and watch the reactions. Better do them in Duplo brick size…the bigger the better 🙂

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    1. Attack of the Clones would have been a better title for the article, that’s for sure! Also, don’t ever tell Rutherford he’s brilliant in any way, it’s like feeding Gremlins after midnight, it’s just not a good idea. I like your Duplo idea, you should post that.

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  13. I still have no idea how these displays haven’t been stealthbombed with a couple 2x2x2 bricks a piece after hours and transmorgified into the Xian Terracotta Warriors of ABS phalluses. For shame.

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    1. I think I’m gonna make it my mission to do just that, the next time I attend a convention. My act is getting old, where I hide somebody’s model and watch the ensuing panic, people are on to me.

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      1. Just another thread in the rich tapestry we all weave together at the loom of Lego…

        I’m pretty sick this morning. Got some crud that manifests as a low grade fever that comes and goes. I’m sitting here at my desk, reading a lesson plan that was written by a deranged and seemingly angry person, and attempting to reducing a 105 PowerPoint presentation down to… hopefully… 20 or 25 slides?

        This blog has already cost the federal government 45 minutes… but it’s keeping me alive, so that’s a plus.

        God, I don’t even want coffee… I just want to crawl under my desk and go to sleep.

        Like

      2. There, there…*pats you on your virtual back*
        Every minute you cost the government, an angel gets its wings.

        Like

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