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May 22, 2004

One Blowhard

Visitors may have noticed that postings from Friedrich von Blowhard have been sparse in the past few weeks. In fact, life and business have dropped some extra-demanding challenges in his lap -- so much so that FvB has reluctantly concluded that the demands of regular blogging have become too great.

Caution: FvB mind (and eye) at work

The good news is that, by dint of gentle harassment, er, coaxing, I got FvB to agree to label his new blogstate "an open-ended sabbatical" instead of "outright retirement." I'm feeling pretty confident that he'll be making regular appearances in the Comments threads. More optimistically, I'm hoping he'll see the blog as an undemanding and friendly hangout, to be taken advantage of at whatever pace he chooses. So, shhhhh: don't let him know, because I don't want to scare him off. But I suspect we may not have seen the last of FvB's postings, even if they appear only very occasionally.

To be honest, I marvel that he's lasted as long as he has. As a few visitors have no doubt noticed, FvB has been the Blowhard who supplies the blog's gravitas. While I've played imp, FvB has rolled up his sleeves, dug into messy and significant subjects, and delivered real goods.

How'd he manage? I lead a streamlined bohemian life that offers a fair number of opportunities for mischief, while FvB leads a different kind of life altogether. He's an entrepreneur with his own business; he and his wife have a house and three kids; and he's his family's financial provider. I marvel at adults leading family-house-and-job lives: how do they find time and energy for Culture at all? (I mean, aside from the occasional DVD.) So I marvel doubly at FvB, who, despite his extra-heavy set of responsibilities, managed to write not just Posting #1, but hundreds and hundreds more.

I suspect that the real reason he managed to crank out provocative writing for as long as he did is the fact that, like me, he's been having such a good time. For one thing, this digging-in-and-giving-heroic-thought-to behavior of his is something FvB does in the normal course of events. It's not some otherwise-hidden spigot he turned on purely for the blog; it's a basic part of who he is. He was rumbling along in this fashion when I first met him back in college, and he's never stopped since. He's got a mind like a diesel engine, made for eathworks and heavy lifting. Even the recent emails he's sent me about how Blogging has Become Too Much have been full of facts and thinking about early modernism, the meaning of the avant-garde in mid-19th century Paris, etc. Just between y'all and me, it wouldn't take much work at all to turn these emails into terrific blog postings. Too bad that isn't to be.

FWIW (and as though anyone's interested), FvB and I did our best from the outset to make our blogging as direct an extension as possible of the freeform day-to-day artchat that we were already doing. We had no desire to pitch ourselves into some new, professional-style activity -- anything but that. Instead, we decided to doll up and make a little more publicly-presentable the artchat emails we were writing to each other anyway. That's why, right at the outset, we settled on the "Dear Michael"/"Dear Friedrich," epistolary form of this blog.

We were lazy and opportunistic, of course. But -- awkward though the format has seemed to some visitors -- we also wanted to assert the importance of the personal and the informal where the experience of art and culture is concerned. Let the academics and professionals conduct learned and formal debates. There's plenty of that around already, some of it of high quality. What seemed to us to be lacking, artchatwise, was the stuff that comes in between the dazzling highlights -- the kind of open-ended, reflective conversations that people who follow the arts have amongst themselves. We wanted to see more in the way of personal reactions, fresh responses, quirky and semi-related insights, honest confessions, bits and pieces of freely-arrived-at information and research, and a certain amount of nose-thumbing irreverence towards the Powers-that-Be. (Gotta keep them honest, and their opinions in perspective, after all.) These intelligent-and-enthusiastic-amateur elements are important parts of the art experience. It seemed to us that in encouraging this kind of chat, we might not just entertain ourselves but perhaps even serve a small and useful purpose.

Which leads me to the second reason I suspect FvB was able to keep the pace and quality up for so long. (Digging back in the archives, I notice that we broke the champagne bottle on the bow of this blog 'way back in July of 2002.) I think that, like me, Friedrich has been energized by the arts-nuts who've chosen to stop by and visit. To our surprise, this blog has become a bit of a hangout for a lot of interesting people. Who knew there were so many brainy and freethinking arts fans out there?

To our great relief and delight, we bloggin' Blowhards have found ourselves playing the role of cafe hosts and conversation-starters rather more than lecturers or editorialists. It's been a real treat to sponsor so many groovy and informative gabfests; it turns out to be sooooooo much more satisfying to throw doors open and see what happens than it is to attempt to swing them shut, with however snazzy a flourish. I'm sure FvB will miss the pleasures of playing host and meeting folks more than anything else about his stretch as a regular blogger.

So please join me in a hearty round of applause for FvB and his nearly two years of fantastic blogging. And please join me too in letting him know that his contributions, in whatever form and on whatever schedule, will always be eagerly welcomed. Yo, no biggee for me; I'm gonna continue swapping emails with Friedrich no matter what. But I'm sorry that y'all won't be getting regular bulletins about what his mind's currently up to.

As for me, many thanks to FvB for a virtuoso and fun job of co-blogging. It's been an enormously rewarding adventure. I hope visitors will continue dropping by 2Blowhards even now that the place's name has become a little misleading.

posted by Michael at May 22, 2004


To Friedrich:

All the best. I do hope you return as often as your personal and professional demands permit. I have really enjoyed the armchair discussion quality of the blog, and hope there's a way it can continue.

And to Michael:

Please keep up the great work!

Posted by: fenster moop on May 24, 2004 03:58 PM

I will miss whats-his-name immensely, but am slowly going through archives to gain the benefit of his wisdom. Michael, please do not follow suit into semi-retirement, and to tell you the truth, I believe if you post a few entries in flagrant disregard of Friedrich's sensitivity to detail, I'm sure you can bring him back instantly!

Enjoy, both of you.

Posted by: susan on May 24, 2004 04:21 PM

Too bad! Whenever I saw a "Dear Michael," at the top of this 'blog, I'd fire up the printer and print the post out for later--I'd always get more out of it with a pen and highlighter and a bit of time to absorb and reflect. Michael, I enjoy your postings too; I'm able to fit them in between bouts of waiting on customers without losing the thread of the argument (and I mean that as a compliment). But despite the "heavy lifting" nature of Freiderich's postings, they were always good for a comfortable read: more like sitting down for an earnest fireside chat than listening to a professor's lecture. I'll miss that.

And here's wishing him the best in his painting, weight-loss, family, and business ventures. Cheers!

Posted by: Nate on May 24, 2004 04:30 PM

I find this mostly regrettable, and not a little unacceptable. Oh well!

Best wishes to Friedrich and high hopes for both his continued presence and eventual return. (And Michael, don't sell your services here short!)

Posted by: Jaquandor on May 24, 2004 04:38 PM

One always tends to assume that good things will go on forever.

Well, Michael, I guess you'll just have to blow twice as hard as before to make up for it. (And when you figure out just what that entails be sure to let me know. :-)

Posted by: Will Duquette on May 24, 2004 06:02 PM

I weep. But not without hope.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 24, 2004 06:09 PM

I am standing up and applauding all of his efforts. I don't know how to put that in writing. My guess is that he will find it hard to stay entirely away.

In fact, if we just say something provocative, like Democrats have all the answers and capitalism is for stooges...oh, I'm sure he'll find his way correct us! :)

I just wish he'd show up with a little art history lesson even once a month. We can hope.

Posted by: annette on May 24, 2004 07:18 PM

In the tradition of flying flags at half mast, I shall decrease the screen display area by 50-percent. In honor of the non-stuffiness of blowhards, I’ll pour some malt liquor into the keyboard, for Fried.

(P.S. Who thought the "Dear Blowhard" format was awkward?)

Posted by: j.c, on May 24, 2004 07:45 PM


Thank you, and don't be a stranger.

Posted by: Michael Snider on May 24, 2004 08:41 PM

It sorta amazes me that anyone can keep a blog going for any kind of serious time-span.

It has to do with the near-necessity to keep pumping out content, yet do this without meaningful financial compensation in most cases. Andrew Sullivan apparently can manage by having money-blegs from time to time. Steven den Beste was able to retire in his late 40s, apparently on software-rentier income, and so has the time and energy to keep plugging away at it (though he recently has been complaining about getting stale). Terry Teachout has recently experienced burnout from commercial projects + blogging and so had to cut back blogging to weekdays. Semi-ditto on James Lileks. And so it goes.

So, I can perfectly understand what Friederich is up against. From time to time I consider starting a blog, but I KNOW I haven't the time or energy for regular blogging, plus I like to take multi-week vacations and lack of new content ruins traffic.

I too suspect Friederich will hop in when time and inclination will suit him. But Michael--can YOU do it virtually alone? Have you considered making this more of a group-blog (as in National Review's Corner)? Of course, you would have to be the guy in charge, which would take some planning and organizational effort. But perhaps you might be able to recruit some "regulars" or "semi-regulars" to do provocative postings every so often.

These are just thoughts. Obviously you can and should do what YOU want to do.

Donald Pittenger

PS--I toured the new Rem Koolhaas Seattle Public Library on opening day Sunday. I already hated the exterior: now I hate the interior as well. Others might beg to differ.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 24, 2004 08:47 PM

Considering I'm the 9th person commenting on this post, there's not much I can say that won't sound like an echo.

FvB, we will definitely miss you and look forward to a tete-a-tete (however virtual) with you everyday.

Posted by: Neha on May 24, 2004 08:52 PM

Shane!!!!! We love you Shane.......

It's been wonderful reading your thoughts. Thank you.


Posted by: Deb on May 24, 2004 10:11 PM

The only proper response, really, is to destroy the Spiral Jetty. Smithson would approve, I think.

Off to Utah ...

Posted by: Maureen on May 24, 2004 10:26 PM

The short time I've been dropping by I've been continuously stunned by the combination of liveliness (MB) and gravitas (FvB) at this site.
How you guys do it is beyond me. But you do!
Thank you both.
The older I get the more grateful I am for the tiny few who carry the rest of us along.

Posted by: ricpic on May 25, 2004 07:18 AM

Well I assume he'll keep sending you art-chat emails from time to time...why not keep lightly editing and posting the one's that are weighty enough?

Posted by: David Mercer on May 25, 2004 07:33 AM

Thanks for all the great posts. Michael, how about an FvB retrospective? You know, sort of an Internet version of those montages they run when somebody gets a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars?

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on May 25, 2004 10:30 AM

"Say it ain't so, Joe"! I'm hoping that it's just a battery re-charge and Mr. F. will be back shortly. Are there any pinch hitters or guest commentators, he's recommending to join w/ you, Michael, on a temp basis? Please keep the dialogue streaming along.

Posted by: DarkoV on May 25, 2004 11:26 AM

Just a note to say I very much enjoy this site and I'll miss Friedrich's posts. Keep it going, Michael!

Posted by: Tim on May 25, 2004 11:58 AM

Definitely a tip o'the Stetson to Friedrich, a blogger I love to read.

Thank you both for being a great spot to visit and chat. Michael, I am still expecting great things from you, pardner.

I love 2blowhards! Le beaucoup de succès, en avant et vers l'haut!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 25, 2004 12:03 PM

Pity, he will be missed (hopefully not for long!)

Posted by: jleavitt on May 25, 2004 04:47 PM

A sad day for me. I suspect it may be even sadder when I check this blog for the fourth or fifth time today, as I normally do (You guys are prolific, and I am obsessive).

Agreed with whoever suggested opening things up a bit for more guest posters, to keep up the breakneck pace of cultural commentary for my daily digestion. Alas, my inexperience!

Posted by: . on May 25, 2004 08:08 PM

This is one of my three favorite blogs so I'm sorry to see that Friedrich will be unable to contribute as much as before.

Strangely enough I never take any notice of which of you has written whatever piece it is I'm reading. I always consider the 2Blowhards as one entity. Sort of like the mystery of the Trinity or something.

Best of luck Friedrich.

Posted by: Graham Lester on May 25, 2004 11:23 PM

Well, Michael, until such time as Friedrich returns, you could appoint a Stand-In Blowhard. In fact, I'll nominate myself. Here's how it would work. First, you write something like...

"Dear Dwight, Isn't it amazing how those 19th Century Pointillists were on to something back circa 1885?" This would be followed by 30,000 words discussing human optical perception, with a digression into the techniques of Trompe l'Oeil, a discourse on whether there's a hard-wired need in the human brain for finding coherent patterns in seeming disorder (with a mention of Percival Lowell thinking he'd seen canals on Mars when it may have just been him unconsciously forcing order into randomly scattered surface features seen at the limit of visibility), a review of the technical development of printing photgraphs in newspapers with emphasis on half-toning (breaking solid areas into dots), speculation on what a live-action film would look like if processed to look like an animated newspaper photo (with mention of a Moody Blues video that just about looked like that), followed by a discourse on Roy Lichtenstein whose paintings of blown-up comic book panels were marked by grossly enlarged dots used to create color tones, making what had been the simple necessity of a somewhat primitive printing process into an artistic if campy effect, a further investigation of the concept of "dpi" and how dense tiny dots have to be to appear like a smooth expanse to a human eye, all backed up with no fewer than 65 links to various websites covering every aspect of the referenced topics...

To which Dwight von Blowhard would reply: "Were these Pointillists guys who did something like with dots or something?"

On second thought...maybe it isn't such a good idea. Forget I mentioned it. No one can step into Friedrich von Blowhard's loafers so easily...


Posted by: Dwight Decker on May 26, 2004 02:21 AM

This is a sad day indeed. When the history of blogging timeline is compiled 100 years from now, this will be the high water mark of blogging before it descended into pornography and idle chit chat. Or was that 2 years ago?

In any case, a good friend of mine who I've turned on to this site let me know of the sabatical. We both agree that this is the best blog out there by far.

Much happiness,

Robert Holzbach

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on May 26, 2004 04:02 PM

you'll be missed.

Posted by: pinky on May 26, 2004 04:02 PM

Hey, Where's Felix? Surely Darth Blowhard will have some infuriatingly caustic remarks on the disappearance of his long time sparring partner.

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on May 26, 2004 04:03 PM

Félicitations à vous deux pour tous vos bons billets (good posts) et votre acharnement (relentlessness)!

Posted by: Martine on May 27, 2004 12:11 AM

2Blowhards is also one of my three favorite blogs (& three is about all I can manage to read).
I will badly miss Friedrich's art entries. I particularly liked what he has written about the Hudson River School & his recent two on the change in art in US brought about by the Civil War.
Best of luck, Susan

Posted by: The Other Susan on May 28, 2004 10:31 AM

My regards to FvB. He's done so much fine work here, especially after the images started appearing. I hope he'll get a few ideas that simply demand similar treatment in the future.

Posted by: Alan Sullivan on May 30, 2004 08:00 PM

FvB's entries on art (for example, recent posts on the French avant garde and the Hudson River School) were unusually good, humorous and insightful. He will be missed.

Posted by: James on May 31, 2004 02:22 PM

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