In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Chaos of History: Art in 1930
  2. Free Reads -- Why leftists?
  3. Aesthetics and Dogs
  4. Politics of the NEA, part II
  5. Free Reads -- Anne Perry
  6. Thanksgiving
  7. Digital Photography Musings
  8. Aloha, "Aloha"
  9. Pollock's Drip Fractals
  10. Games and Puzzles

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Chaos of History: Art in 1930
Michael Here's another mini-installment of my "cross-section" approach to art history, this time focused on 1930. All the following images were painted over a period of, at most, 5 years (1928-1933). As always, we're dealing with pop-ups, so I hope you take the time to look at them full-size. Abstraction B. Brooker, Sounds Assembling, 1928; A. Dove, Foghorns, 1929 Landscape M. Hartley, Carnelian Country, 1932; A. Jackson, Winter, Charlevoix County, 1932 Female Portrait F. Varley, Vera, 1931; P. Picasso, Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932; Y. Biriukova, Portrait of Lillian Evers, 1933 Female Nude T. Lempicka, Andromede, 1929; E. Holgate, Nude, 1930 Perhaps I should mention that I have no animus to analytic art history, simply that I think it's always a good idea to look at things a bit differently from time to time. I remember having one of those "aha" moments the first time I realized that Velásquez and Van Dyck were exact contemporaries, and Rembrandt was a mere 7 years younger. It suddenly became obvious to me exactly why Baroque painting had stamped itself so indelibly on art history. Anyway, enjoy! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 30, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, November 29, 2002

Free Reads -- Why leftists?
Friedrich -- Why would a rational person with some knowledge of the world choose to be a leftist? It's a puzzler. Thomas Sowell and Michael Oakeshott have written brilliantly on the topic. Online, the best musings seem to me to come from Jim Ryan at Philosoblog (here), and John Jay Ray (here). In a recent Philosoblog posting, Ryan brings together several strands of thought, which combine to throw off a lot of sparks. (He too graciously credits me with setting some of this thinking off.) Sample passage: The adolescent without direction suddenly gets direction: to prove the conservative to be effete, pretentious, and, even vacuous in his tastes. The young liberal will show that profoundly rich experiences are there to be had precisely by those who are not so controlled and discriminating ... So, the anti-establishment aesthetic is cast sometimes as a spiritual mysticism (usually Asian kinds, since those involve profound aesthetic experiences and ‘not making distinctions’), but usually as an avante garde, rule-breaking aesthetic elitism to rival that of the conservative establishment. "Dissecting Leftism" is the name of John Jay Ray's blog, and it's an ongoing conversation about the mystery that is leftism, worth checking in with regularly. From time to time he even gets in a welcome dig or two at the art scene. Sample passage: I have argued elsewhere at some length that Leftists are basically unoriginal people who are desperate for attention, and postmoderns are clearly an extreme example of that. They are people driven to desperation by having nothing to say or contribute yet also having a great longing for attention -- and in that situation any attention will do, even if all they manage to do is to disgust people. Coming one of these days: a grand unified theory of leftism. Till then, the thing to do is to keep in touch with Philosoblog and John Jay Ray. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2002 | perma-link | (18) comments

Aesthetics and Dogs
Michael A story from the New York Times, which you can read here, reveals recent progress made in understanding the domestication of wolves: On the basis of DNA from several wolf populations and from the hairs collected off 654 dogs around the world, Dr. Savolainen calculates a date for domestication either 40,000 years ago, if all dogs come from a single wolf, or around 15,000 years ago, the date he prefers, if three animals drawn from the same population were the wolf Eves [i.e., the ancestral females] of the dog lineage. Dr. Savolainen believes that dogs originated from wolves somewhere in East Asia, because there is greater genetic diversity, often a sign of greater antiquity, in Asian dogs than in European dogs. However, there remains a debate over exactly how this domestication took place, given the circumstances: The dates yielded by dog DNA suggest that wolves were domesticated by hunter-gatherers, before the invention of agriculture and permanent human settlements. But domestication is an arduous process, in which animals must be selected for a particular trait through many generations, by several generations of people. It is hard to see how hunter-gatherers could have foreseen the payoff from domesticating wolves, or would have known what traits to select for. I want to jump into this debate with my own, er, crackpot theory: humans selected which little wolf puppies to shower attention (and, more importantly, food) on because of how the little rascals looked. In short, the domestication of wolves was guided by (human) aesthetics. A related story in the Wall Street Journal lists the, ahem, design modifications that occurred as a result of domestication: (1) snouts became smaller and less overtly toothy; (2) ears became floppy; (3) tails curled up or became less rigid; and (4) coloring became more varied and splotchy. Canines: Early and Late Models Of course, one can argue about priorities here: whether people deliberately bred wolves to appear cuddly or whether people have learned to “read” canines that have shorter snouts, floppy ears, curled up tails and varied colors as unlikely to devour Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. But either way, it suggests that people have good reasons to be conscious of “design” in their surroundings and certainly don’t tolerate just anything around them because it happened to wander in from the cold. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 29, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Politics of the NEA, part II
Michael As I mentioned in my last posting, the NEA was created in large part under political pressure from established arts organizations; from the politically active, wealthy individuals who raised funds and sat on their boards; from the film industry; and from labor unions like the American Federation of Musicians and Actors’ Equity, many of which were associated with the then-languishing New York theater industry. The whole question of the agency’s goals had been left essentially unaddressed in the legislation creating the NEA, other than by such meaningless phrases as The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States. The infant agency was a tabula rosa—and thus, in political terms, its budget was up for grabs. There was not much to squabble over in the first few years, however. The Johnson administration, whose ardor for supporting the arts had dropped off sharply after it became clear that the arts community vociferously opposed the War in Vietnam, had asked never asked for anything more than token (i.e., under $10 million) appropriations from Congress. Paradoxically, that set the stage for a huge increase in funding under Johnson’s Republican successor. Nixon, on taking office, had appointed Nelson Rockefeller’s protégé (and ex-mistress) Nancy Hanks to head up the NEA. Hanks, like the good bureaucratic empire builder she was, recommended a significant funding increase for the NEA in Nixon’s first budget. This would have been a merely predictable but empty gesture except that Nixon’s political advisor Leonard Garment supported Hank’s plans. Garment felt that the increase …would have high impact among opinion formers…Support for the arts is, increasingly, good politics…you will gain support from groups which have hitherto not be favorable to this administration… [T]he key is in the headline. Doubling won’t do when the money is peanuts—a bag of peanuts becomes two bags of peanuts. The ever impish Nixon, conscious that he was viewed as a cultural bumpkin, agreed, and on December 10, 1969, asked Congress to approve $40 million for arts and humanities for fiscal year 1971. Hanks then went to work to gain congressional approval. She began by committing most of the requested new money to museums and symphony orchestras, the groups best organized to apply pressure in Washington. Hanks stirred up support by visiting orchestra and museum boards to chat about what they might do if she—and they—got the money. And she delivered in return for their support: throughout her tenure the NEA’s expanded budgets amply rewarded established non-profit art organizations. Museums received nothing in 1970 but more than $9 million in 1974. Orchestras received $2.5 million in 1970 and more than $16 million four years later. In lobbying for her agency Hanks seldom dwelled on what she called “the great philosophical importance of the arts,” and instead worked to ensure that every congressman whose vote was needed heard from important, supportive constituents. One of Hank’s key allies was Jack Golodner, a Democratic labor lawyer who had become a lobbyist for the American Council for the... posted by Friedrich at November 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Free Reads -- Anne Perry
Friedrich -- Do you remember the movie "Heavenly Creatures"? Peter Jackson directing a tale about two teenaged girls who have a folie a deux friendship and wind up killing the mother of one of the girls? It made Jackson's reputation, and it got Kate Winslet's career off to a great start. You may remember that the story was based on an actual New Zealand murder case, and you may also remember that at the time of the film's release, one of the real-life girls, now grown-up, was tracked down -- and that she turned out to be the very-successful English crime novelist Anne Perry. An amazing story. Now Perry has spoken for the first time at length about the crime, and about what it has been like for her to live with the knowledge of her role in it. Olga Craig does a beautiful job of writing the conversation up for the Daily Telegraph, here. Sample passage: It was during solitary confinement, Anne says, that she learned to accept the enormity of what she had done. "It was then that I forgave myself," she says. "Don't run away, I told myself. I faced what I had done. I knew it was wrong. There was no evasion. I had done a terrible, vile thing. And when you face your worst crime, the fear leaves you." Not exactly cheerful Thanksgiving reading, but fascinating nonetheless. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael-- I was just sitting here twiddling my thumbs before heading out to the airport. I am dragging my long-suffering nuclear family off to see my Dad on the East Coast. (This should not be construed as meaning that I am from the East Coast—I am a Midwesterner born and bred, raised in the Motor City. It’s not my fault that the old parental unit decided to build his retirement home so hellaciously far away.) Anyway, I thought I should make some sort of Thanksgiving gesture to our loyal readers (may they ever increase—in numbers, not in waistline) and so started aimlessly trolling the Web with a Google search on…of all things…Thanksgiving! Obviously endless stuff pops up, but, to me, the most significant items are the real-life Thanksgiving snapshots people have posted. When hipsters started talking a few years ago about how the Web was going to change everything, I for one never anticipated the way it would bring me into a form of domestic intimacy with so many people I’d never met. A few months ago when I was researching pictures of the Parthenon in Athens, I was surprised to see that many of the best shots had been taken by tourists and posted on their individual websites. I didn’t use any of them, because they usually had themselves or their loved ones in the picture, but I still went away quite impressed at catching a glimpse at the amount of thought, creativity and general adventure that occurs at what used to be an utterly private level. History will never be the same, assuming that historians are smart enough to download virtually the entire World Wide Web on a regular basis. Anyway, I came away from my very brief search with this iconic Thanksgiving picture for all of you. I don’t know who created it, but a tip of the hat to the Unknown Artist. Iconic Thanksgiving Picture By Unknown Artist I also stumbled across the following, a page of doodles entitled “Thanksgiving”—note the stuffing recipe in the upper right corner. G. Fama, Thanksgiving, 1998 This is from the website of Gene Fama, which you can see here. Gene is, well, I don’t know what Gene is now, but at one point he was a comic book artist and a funny guy. (He probably still is.) He has some very amusing doodles and other entertaining stuff, including a page of his daughter’s drawings, on his site. Anyway, a Happy Thanksgiving to Gene (happier anyway than 1998 on the evidence of his drawing--although with artists you can never tell) and all the rest of you. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Digital Photography Musings
Friedrich -- "But what about the printer?" That was my main worry a while back, when I was lusting to get myself a digital still camera. The cameras finally seemed tolerably good and tolerably priced. But the printers ... I didn't like the expense -- refilling all those damn ink wells! -- and I worried that the prints wouldn't last long before fading. Also, since I already have a good b&w laser printer, I wasn't eager to clutter up the work space with yet another gizmo. I want one, I want one ... No, actually, I can wait When I finally sprang for the camera about six months ago, I decided that my way of resolving the printer question would be by sliding into "waiting until they get better" mode. What prompts this posting is that I just realized that not only have I not yet bought a color printer, I haven't yet wanted to make a color print. I'm still in "waiting till they get better" mode, and am perfectly happy there. The fact is, or has proved (to my surprise) to be, that I find storing photos on my hard drive and looking at them on the computer monitor not just an adequate substitute for storing and leafing through traditional prints, but much superior to it. This isn't just a matter of editing fun with Photoshop, it's also a matter of sheer looking-at-'em pleasure. The photos look really, really good on screen -- that beaming CRT glow gives them a kind of glamor. I can make them larger and smaller at will, and I love being able to email them. Plus I can riffle through them pretty easily. Despite hard-drive clutter, my digi-photos are much more accessible to me than my old on-paper photos are in the boxes and bins where they're heaped. So I enjoy them more. I seem to remember that you've entered the digi-still-photo world yourself. Have you found this to be the case too? Assuming my experience reflects that of other users, I wonder what this means for photography. I'm happier with virtual photography than I am with hard-copy-centric photography, not just as somebody who dislikes the smell of chemicals but simply as someone who enjoys looking at photographs. Will the primary life (not just the production but the viewers' experience) of photos soon start to be onscreen rather than on paper? Myself, I'll always have some framed photos out and on display. But I suspect the great majority of my photos will accumulate on my hard drive, thence never to take on existence in the physical realm. And that's fine by me. I still crave a good color printer but now consider buying one such a luxury that I may never get around to making the purchase; they're always getting better and cheaper. Plus, I'm rather enjoying the pleasures of holding off -- the Wife claims that I enjoy waiting on a purchase more than actually making it. What I really crave these... posted by Michael at November 27, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Aloha, "Aloha"
Michael In a comment a while ago, you asked for more information on “Aloha” Barney, who was the art dealer for Edgar (“The King of Black Velvet Painting”) Leeteg. At the cost of countless minutes spent reading the articles thrown up by a Google search, this is what I’ve discovered: Apparently Aloha (whose name was either Barney Smith or Barney Davis) had been a submarine pilot in World War Two. He seems to have met Leeteg in Hawaii. Alternatively, since Leeteg spent most of his time drunk or high in Tahiti, it’s possible that he merely thought he had met Aloha in Hawaii. In any event, Aloha opened a gallery in Hawaii, where he sold Leeteg’s work. This was no small task, since ex-billboard painter Leeteg churned out two velvet paintings a week—over 1,700 in a 15 year period. Aloha was shrewd enough to call Leeteg “The American Gauguin,” and would often compare Leeteg’s technique of painting on black velvet with the play of lights and darks in the works of the Dutch Masters. As Phil Patton remarks, this was a school of painting “he could be sure patrons would know from the cigar box.” Note the Play of Lights and Darks Aloha also seems to have helped promote Leeteg’s image, encouraging the painter to construct the palatial Villa Velour, which was even equipped with a 10-seat Italian marble outhouse. Aloha realized that a hard-drinking, wildly promiscuous image was good for Leeteg’s prices; statements attributed to Leeteg like: “I have boozed more, fought more, laid more girls and thrown more wild parties than anyone else on the island, but it's all good publicity and gets me talked about plenty, and that's what sells pictures" have Aloha’s fingerprints all over them (especially since Leeteg lived with his mother.) Anyway, Aloha gave as good as he got in his relationship with Leeteg, since he managed to move the black velvet to the tune of $10,000 a picture in the late 1940s—when a buck was a buck—which would have made anyone other than a tormented artist like Leeteg happy. Of course, Leeteg may have been tormented by being excessively happy, since he died by falling off a motorcycle while drunk. Anyway, it was hard to tell his mental state since he was more or less always drunk, high, or getting yelled at by his mother. Visionary Dealer Aloha Barney In short, I believe the NEA should endow a college scholarship fund in memory of Aloha Barney Smith/Davis; more dealers with his visionary temperament would be the best development imaginable for the American art scene. You can read more about Aloha Barney and Leeteg here, here, here and here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Pollock's Drip Fractals
Michael In the December 2002 issue of Scientific American there is a very interesting article by Richard Taylor on the existence of fractal patterns in Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Dr. Taylor, a physics professor at the University of Oregon, is perhaps unusual for a hard scientist in also possessing a master’s degree in art theory. J. Pollock, Lavender Mist, 1950 (detail) Does Art Imitate Math? After a chance occurrence got him thinking about possible affinities between Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and fractals, Dr. Taylor scanned a Pollock drip painting into a computer, then covered the image with a computer-generated mesh of identical squares, and analyzed which squares were occupied by the painted pattern and which were empty. As a result, he could calculate the statistical qualities of the pattern (i.e., the number of full or empty squares.) According to Doc Taylor, …fractals consist of patterns that recur on finer and finer magnifications, building up shapes of immense complexity. In short, a fractal pattern looks quite similar at any scale of magnification, with a constant ratio of filled to empty areas. When Doc Taylor examined the “statistics” of the Pollock drip painting patterns under different sized-grids—from ones small enough to isolate a single speck of paint to grids a meter square—he found that the Pollock's imagery was of a fractal nature, with the same patterns appearing over the entire scale range. The good doctor considered the possibility that all drip paintings automatically create fractals, and to check this hypothesis he analyzed a painting by an artist other than Pollock. The non-Pollock drip painting yielded no fractal patterns. On the possibility that what he had found was just a fluke, Dr. Taylor analyzed a lot of samples, including: ...five drip paintings sent to us by collectors who suspected their acquisitions might have been created by Pollock. Despite superficial similarities with Pollock’s work, none of the paintings contained fractal patterns. The fractals are the product of the specific technique that Pollock devised, and all the 20 drip paintings of his that we have analyzed have this fractal structure. Dr. Taylor has also gotten interested in the aesthetics of fractals. For example, the more complex the fractal pattern, the higher the “fractal dimension," or "D” is: For a smooth line (containing no fractal structure), D has a value of 1; for a completely filled area, [D’s] value is 2. For a fractal pattern, however, the repeating structure causes the line to occupy area. D then lies in the range between 1 and 2; as the complexity and richness of the repeating structure increase, its value moves closer to 2. Dr. Taylor and his colleagues have investigated aesthetic reactions to three categories of fractals: natural fractals, such as those found in trees, mountains and clouds, mathematical fractals developed by computer simulations and artistic fractals, in this case sections of Pollock paintings. Participants in Doc Taylor’s tests consistently prefered D values in the range of 1.3 to 1.5, regardless of whether the pattern was from nature,... posted by Friedrich at November 26, 2002 | perma-link | (8) comments

Games and Puzzles
Friedrich -- A few remarks by Glenn “Mac” Frazier in the comments section of the modernist/modernism posting below got me thinking about puzzles and games. I dislike puzzles and enjoy games. Puzzles, which seem to be about figuring things out, give me a headache -- I seem to spend a lot of time fighting frustration and fury, and can’t seem to find whatever pleasure might be there to be had. Games on the other hand I often enjoy. Sports, cards ... One of my probably-never-to-be-realized ambitions is to become good at the game of go, which (the few times I’ve played it) has made my brain feel refreshed and tingly. A game is a very different experience for me than a puzzle. It’s a more or less simple set of rules, understood before the action begins, and then the playing-out of one’s energies and inspirations -- all of which I find intensely pleasurable, not that I’ve ever been terribly good at any games. Video and computer games, which I’ve never enjoyed, strike me as some new hybrid -- half puzzle, half game. There’s often action to be taken part in. Yet the rules never seem fully spelled-out beforehand; you discover them as you go. So the playing-out of the game is really the figuring-out of the puzzle. Once you’ve figured the game out, it’s over, you’re done. Figuring the game out is the game -- which, as far as I’m concerned, makes these things not traditional games at all, but more related to puzzles and programming. And like puzzles, they give me headaches. The Wife tells me she thinks that puzzles appeal to obsessive personalities like her own, and that my personality is a more open-ended one. Her hunch is that, as a well-behaved, bland-o Protestant person who appreciates decent manners, I like inhabiting spaces that are defined by rules yet allow for mental and physical romping. A good theory, I think, even if I suspect she’s really telling me in a sweet way that I drive her nuts because I’m an inane and shallow person. Ah, subtext. But I’m a tyro at thinking about these puzzles-and-games questions. Any insights? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments

Free Reads -- Callow on Guinness
Friedrich -- Have you run across the writing of the British actor Simon Callow? I think he's one of the handful of really good writers on performers and performance, topics that are amazingly difficult to write about well. Callow's biography of Charles Laughton (buyable here) is, for me, one of the very best biographies ever written about an actor; Callow knows what acting is and he knows what Laughton was about. And he treats Laughton's work with the kind of respect and knowledge we expect in discussions of writers and painters but almost never encounter in discussions of performers. Guinness: What did he have against Larry? You can sample Callow's mind and touch in this good, long review by Callow (for the Guardian) of Gary O'Connor's new biography of Alec Guinness, here. Sample passage: O'Connor is keenly aware of the nature of the acting enterprise that Guinness was slowly identifying for himself, his unusual sense of character, his uncommonly economical transformations (I was in the dressing room with him on the last night of his Merchant of Venice, for which he produced one of his most remarkable physicalisations, and watched him dismantle his Shylock by simply removing two pieces of Blu-tack from behind his ears - "Jumbo ears" he said - and some eye-liner). Above all Guinness possessed the thrilling capacity to embody thought, to harness mental power. "An actor needs a slightly mystical approach to the stage," he said at a relatively early period in his career. "You can't force yourself on the character." The piece is full of stories and gossip, too. Guinness could put away enormous amounts of booze; hated Laurence Olivier; and, despite marriage and fatherhood, was almost certainly gay. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, November 25, 2002

Free Reads -- Pre-Code Hollywood
Friedrich -- Jon Walz visits the author and film restorer Mark Vieira for the L.A. Times, and produces a concise introduction to the history and pleasures of "pre-Code Hollywood," here. The pre-Code period was the four(ish) year long stretch in the early '30s when an amazingly large number of rowdy, uninhibited films were produced. Then the censors cracked down. Sample passage: Content from hundreds of pre-1934 films was excised methodically by the Hays Office's zealous L.A. studio liaison Joseph Breen, beginning in 1934 and continuing well into the mid-'50s, when films began playing on television. In recent years, lost footage has been found and reinserted into many of the "cut" films, but there are close to 100 films still missing footage.      "I grew up in the Bay Area in the '50s and would watch these films on local TV stations," Vieira says. "Although I didn't know about the cuts, something just drew me to the kinds of worlds these films portrayed, and it fascinated me." I haven't seen as many of the pre-Code films as I'd like, but I can certainly vouch for their energy, physicality and good-nature. What a shock it is to see such films coming from that era. You mean, Grandma and Grandpa drank, had fun, and enjoyed sex? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Q&A archive
Friedrich -- Are you as fond of the q&a form as I am? I sometimes feel sorry for the interviewee, who's often spent years developing a subject and a style and who's now expected to deliver the essential goods in an hour or less. Yet the first thing I do when I get interested in a recent artist is search for q&a's he's done. It's an amazingly efficient way to get up to some kind of speed. A resource for q&a junkies I hadn't run across before just came to my attention: an archive of interviews with a fun range of book people, from Nicholson Baker to Anthony Lane, readable here. The interviewer, Robert Birnbaum, gives his subjects plenty of space, as well as attentive and sensitive questioning. Sample passage, from an interview with Alain de Botton: Birnbaum: Let's talk about the sublime. You introduce this notion as a kind of substitute for traditional religious worship in the 19th century. AB: The sublime is a feeling provoked by certain kinds of landscape that are very large, very impressive and dangerous. Places like the wide-open oceans, the high mountains ... It's interesting that around the end of the 18th century, people started to say that the feeling that these places provoke in us is a recognizable one and universal one—and a good one. This feeling was described as the feeling of the sublime ... What lies at the center of the experience is a feeling of smallness. You are very small and something else is very big and dangerous. You are very vulnerable in the face of something else. Of course, the other thing that tends to make you feel very small and vulnerable is God, traditionally, in our culture. There is an intriguing synchronicity between the rise of the idea of the sublime and the decline of organized religion. The way many people speak of landscape as of the late 18th century is often in quasi-religious tones or actively religious tones. So if one thinks about people like Thomas Cole going out and painting the American West what they are saying and seeing is the hand of God in Nature. Lots of good reading to be had here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Art is Long, Life is Weird
Michael The Wall Street Journal of November 25 has a column (“Boomtown” by Lee Gomes) on a wrinkle in the art-technology interface known as 3-D scanning or “lidar.” This is a laser scanning system that yields 3-dimensional data of an object. While I’ve been aware of this type of optical scanning for a number of years (didn’t they use something like this back when they were creating the clay-to-animatronic-to digital dinosaurs for Jurassic Park?) I wasn’t aware that it was being applied to our sculptural heritage. As the article points out, Some of the most interesting laser-scanning work, though, is in the field of cultural and historical preservation. A team from Stanford University runs the Digital Michelangelo project that used a special high-powered laser to scan the statue of David in Florence. The scanning is accurate down to less than 100th of an inch and fills up 20 gigabytes of data. The article points out that, for art historians, these scans have a variety of worthy uses: David Koller, a Stanford graduate student who worked on the project, said the David 3D model was used in Florence to help plan the current cleaning that David is getting. He also said that the Stanford model is accurate enough that one can discern the direction of Michaelangelo’s individual chisel marks. With the right sort of image processing software, said Mr. Koller, an art historian could develop new insights into Michelangelo’s sculpting techniques. Art history almost seems besides the point, however: what really strikes me is that the David has entered a new phase in its life as an artwork. I mean, the darn thing's been digitized (the David’s been reduced to a mere 20 gigs?—that doesn’t seem big enough somehow) and will now go off into thousands of new experiences as a work of art. It will no doubt get “quoted” and inserted into God knows what new artistic concantenations. While I don’t claim to see this future more than through a glass, darkly, I suppose one can analogize with the ways in which 2-D scanners and the Internet have “democratized” the museum—today, every man can be his own art publisher/image-appropriating digital collagist. And if images have cast off their link to their handcrafted originals today, why shouldn’t this be true for 3-dimensional representations tomorrow? The mind boggles, but I guess that’s sort of the point. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Moviegoing: "Punch Drunk Love"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I just caught P.T. Anderson's Punch Drunk Love, and I think it's going to be the last of his movies I'll bother with. He's certainly talented, and his movies have the virtue of being strange, unusual, and ambitious. I have friends whose brains and taste I respect who enjoy his work, and even seem to think he's the great young post-Tarantino hope. Emily Watson and Adam Sander: Movie love How do you react to his movies? I think I see pretty clearly what he's doing -- I get it: A panoramic/sociological Altmanesque thing, but done with a hyper-subjective, my-head's-about-to-explode, early-Scorsese intensity. I just don't take any pleasure in it, though bless his heart for persuading Heather Graham to be so uninhibited in "Boogie Nights." I can't bring myself to write much more, but for the sake of information let it be noted that "Punch Drunk Love" is an absurdist romantic fairy tale (ie., stir a little Demy into the usual Altman-Scorsese mix) in love with the ideas of unlikeliness and the miraculous (Love! Art! Success in both is such a fluke!), and determined to prevail in the face of cosmically bad odds via sheer... via sheer... Well, to be honest, what I really keep wondering when watching Anderson's movies is "What's this guy on?" Almost everything in his movies is over-intense, over-upsetting. The visuals smear, blur, and twinkle -- here, he's forever using stabs and jabs and flashing -- and the sonics are pure echo-chamber mindfuck. What's he on? No idea. But his films remind me of those final hours of an acid trip when it's too much and you just wish it would all stop. Even after leaving the theater I notice that I'm feeling like I used to the day after taking acid -- flattened, burnt out, with nothing to do but wait for the nervous system to repair itself. The wife thinks Anderson may simply be high on the idea of being a great director, that being an artist is so important to him that making films may be drug enough. There's no question that he burns to be the creator of '70s-style, mysterious-renegade films -- his whole soul seems consumed by that era. Which may help explain why some of my critic friends are so high on his work; they're nostalgic themselves for those headstrong old days. And P.T. Anderson helps them keep that miracle alive. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 25, 2002 | perma-link | (9) comments