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  1. Free Views -- Jim Strickland
  2. Free Reads -- Jerry Saltz
  3. Pics of the Day: Contempo Realism
  4. Free Reads -- Philosoblog
  5. Mies Redux
  6. Policy Break--The Basics redux
  7. Pic of the Day
  8. 500 and Counting...
  9. Free Reads -- Worsley on Mies
  10. Free Reads -- Tunes and the brain

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Friday, January 10, 2003

Free Views -- Jim Strickland
Friedrich -- Lordy, I did that long posting about modernist architecture without providing a single image of the kind of thing any of the new traditionalists are doing. Where's my editor when I need one? To kick things off, here's a porch and two houses by Historical Concepts, a firm in Georgia. (These are pop-up images, so you can click on them and have a better look.) There's no irony or attitude in sight, just attractive new work in traditional styles. Jim Strickland is the firm's president. Their website can be enjoyed here. And where do you find coverage of what they build? Not in architecture magazines, but in Southern Accents. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

Free Reads -- Jerry Saltz
Friedrich -- The Village Voice's Jerry Saltz takes a look back over his years as an art critic (here), and is frank and funny about what it has been like. Sample passage: Despite what people think, art critics don't have power—at least not in the bullying, Greenbergian way we did in the past. We may have some effect, or be able to turn the spotlight on an artist; we can trash or praise exhibitions, raise questions, and cast doubt, but we can't make or break careers, or close shows the way theater critics can. If I had that kind of power, a certain museum director would no longer have his job, several careers would be over that aren't, and a number of artists would be more recognized than they are. Nowadays, power is seen to be in the hands of curators, dealers, collectors, and museum execs. Something he doesn't touch on, perhaps because he's in the thick of the weekly grind, is how your reactions are affected by the endless looking-and-searching you (as a pro) have to do for something to write about. I found that covering the arts as a pro enforced a kind of restless agitation on me, as well as constant prodding and testing of my reactions. All of which did alter the flavor of the art experience somewhat. But I don't think I've ever run across a piece on that topic. Have you? But Saltz's piece is first-rate. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pics of the Day: Contempo Realism
Friedrich -- Some email has come in from readers curious about contemporary art, and who wonder: What's become of skill and craft in a traditional sense? In fact, there's a lot of it out there to be enjoyed. You have to know where to look, though, because (generally speaking) the people and outlets that cover the contempo scene don't pay attention to this work, and so aren't providing guidance (or much in the way of service) to many people who might, if they knew about this stuff, enjoy current visual art. I thought I'd pass along a few links, so the curious can begin exploring: By Edward Schmidt * San Francisco's Hackett-Freedman Gallery (here) specializes in what they call "modern realism," and their artists range from the very precise to the loosey goosey. It's a terrific website, full of information about painting and art generally, and the artists they represent are all first-rate. For starters, try the dazzling landscape artist Steven Bigler; Carlo Maria Mariani, who works a style that might be called surreal classicism; Costa Vavagiakis, for a display of raw portrait-painting firepower; and Edward Schmidt, whose paintings I'm not wild about but whose drawings have a luscious, erotic solemnity. By Raymond Han * The Forum Gallery (here), with branches in L.A. and NYC, shows a very classy selection of contempo-realist painters and artists. Their website is also a generous one. I've seen shows by Kent Bellows, William Beckman, Raymond Han, and Robert Cottingham, and enjoyed them all. By David Ligare * It's fun to wrestle with the phenomenon that is David Ligare, who's a classical painter with a capital C. He really does it up, painting Arcadian landscapes, idealized townscapes, and allegorical compositions. The modernist art world looks at his work and sees nothing but kitsch. I don't resonate deeply to what he does, but I'm glad he's doing it, and I find the skill and conviction he puts on display hard to dismiss. His website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Free Reads -- Philosoblog
Friedrich -- Jim Ryan at Philosoblog (here) has put up a posting that's a real one-of-a-kind beauty entitled "Why Did Oakeshott Quote Chuang-Tzu." A must read. Sample passage: Chuang-tzu was nihilistic about all traditionally cherished moral values and virtues. Why did Oakeshott quote him? Because the conservative shares with him the idea of a life lived in a way such that the parts of your life come together in a beautiful harmony, such that you have no need to attain anything further. Whew! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 9, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Mies Redux
Friedrich -- Felix Salmon, our very own gadfly, left a typically provocative comment on a posting of mine about Mies van der Rohe. "Which leaves the building design to, um, the developers," wrote Felix. "And if there's one thing worse than a building designed by an architect, it's a building not designed by an architect." We Blowhards do wonder sometimes about Felix. Given how deeply and often he disagrees with -- and even objects to -- us, well, why does he even bother stopping by? But he's intelligent and provocative, and he doesn't mind a good dust-up. So I'm going to take the bait once more. Felix will object that I'm tilting at straw men, and he'll be right. But what the heck, what interests me is taking advantage of the chance he's offered me to spell out some fundamentals. My first, and most important, point is that 99% of what I'm writing here when I write about buildings and architecture isn't remotely controversial, despite how some people (ahem, Felix) seem to take it. Not everyone agrees with me, obviously, but plenty do. I like to think I have a couple of contributions to make to the discussion, but I'm mostly just passing along information. The fact that anyone would consider the information I'm passing along to be controversial, let alone disputable, amazes me, and is for me a sad sign of how passively we accept an academic-media-lefty establishment that is still (if by now somewhat frantically) clinging to its sense of self-importance. So, a few basic facts. 1. Traditionalist architecture? New-traditionalist architecture? Huh? Wha'? No, I didn't make these movements up. They've been flourishing since the 1980s, and are flourishing today. There have always, of course, been architects and builders (and developers and homeowners) building in traditional ways, even during the heyday of High Modernism. What's new (or newish, given that this particular movement began quite a while ago now) is that people graduating from fancy schools are doing it. Self-conscious people are doing it. High-end people are doing it. People who you wouldn't expect it of are doing it in conscious reaction against the academic/media/institutional establishment. People with brainwashings from snazzy schools like Yale, Princeton and Berkeley have turned against their modernist training in order to embrace traditional styles. They aren't reacting against modernism by advocating post-modernism (although there are certainly many people who are doing this). Instead, they're learning how to design and build traditionally. No tongue in cheek, no irony. They're simply saying, Gee, IMHO the whole Modernist thing was a great big mistake, and rather than try to patch it up or redeem it, I'm just giving up on it. And they're proceeding ahead from there. Some examples: There's a new-Classicism movement (that's right: columns, lintels, pediments, the whole shmear) pepping along quite successfully. There's the New Urbanism, led by some Yale-Princeton grads, which makes an ideal of the American small town, and is one of the more successful recent movements in neighborhood development. (Do... posted by Michael at January 9, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Policy Break--The Basics redux
Michael-- Someone, Robert Heinlein I think, once remarked that any system of government could “work,” as long as under it authority and accountability/responsibility were aligned. (He didn't mean that all forms of “working” government were equally valid, just that if the two attributes were matched, the resulting organization would be more or less functional.) In the case of the corporate scandals at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom we have one illustration of what happens when authority is not accompanied by accountability. Such accounting shenanigans would be pointless undertaken by the owners of a private business—who would they be fooling? Themselves? In Enron, Tyco, etc., we have managers who weren't owners, but rather speculators in the stock of a company they controlled, and this split is the origin of many such problems. Welfare, on the other hand is an illustration of what happens when responsibility is not accompanied by authority. I have read countless editorials informing me that the "disadvantaged" are my responsibility. I’ll even posit that I feel this to be the case. However, in what meaningful sense can I be responsible for people without having the slightest authority over them? I'll accept responsibility for my minor children (limitless) and even my employees (limited), but for somebody walking down the street? If you made me the Czar of the Disadvantaged with powers to match, I might turn out to be either a Stalin or a Washington, but at least then you could reasonably talk about me being "responsible" for the outcome. And this arrangement is no boon to the disadvantaged. Because I am not alone in my distrust of accepting responsibility with no accompanying authority (and, I assume like many people, not walking around desiring such authority), the most that results is welfare: the payment of a small stipend just sufficient to make the recipients go away and "stand in the corner" where we don't have to deal with them. Of course, the resulting isolation is especially damaging to the disadvantaged, since for many of them their main "disadvantage" is lack of (1) the skills necessary in order to profitably interact with society at large and (2) opportunities for that profitable interaction. So my point is, to square this circle, something’s got to give. Either we give up on the possibility of many “disadvantaged” people ever living a productive and well-remunerated life, or we will have to adopt a more intrusive regime in order to aid them. When I suggested a modestly intrusive regime in an earlier posting, I was accused of being "smug in my superiority." I am not claiming an ounce of "superiority" here--the reason I'm not on welfare is because I was subjected to a very intrusive regime of, ahem, "aid" run by two fiercely committed but unapologetic despots with very little regard for my "autonomy as an individual" (sorry, Mom and Dad, but I gotta tell the truth.) So which is more compassionate, more caring, more likely to produce results: the welfare model or the Mr. and... posted by Friedrich at January 9, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pic of the Day
Michael— Today’s pic of the day is from Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), who is generally treated in histories of art as a sort of transitional figure. He first pops up as a virtuouso printmaker from the sticks (Holland) with a Mannerist taste for Michelangelesque nudes. After a trip to Italy in the early 1590s, he becomes the medium through which the Dutch artistic community is introduced to a more classical visual language. Finally, his drawings of the Dutch countryside begin the naturalistic tradition of Netherlandish landscape art. In short, he is presented as either a “behind-the-times provincial,” a “conduit” or a “forerunner.” Ouch. I’ve never quite been able to reconcile his “B” team status with the power of many of his images. For example, our selection today is an engraving made from the Farnese Hercules. While this statue has been drawn and engraved countless times, I’ve never seen a presentation that matches the unique power of this one. Goltzius has presented us with an utterly convincing image of masculinity as a force of nature (note the way the muscles of the upper back rhyme with the cloud patterns in the sky above.) H. Goltzius, Farnese Hercules, ca. 1592 (detail) Goltzius was also an astonishingly gifted portrait artist, who gives his portrait heads a remarkable combination of sculptural clarity and living intimacy. Along with the full image of "The Farnese Hercules" are two examples from his Italian sojourn, presented below as thumbnails. (On the left of the "Hercules" is a portrait of the sculptor Giambologna, and on the right a self portrait.) Enjoy, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 9, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

500 and Counting...
FRIEDRICH: Mein Gott, Michael, are we making any progress here? MICHAEL: Shut up, you pathetic Prussian, and keep blowing! We're at Post #500!... posted by Friedrich at January 8, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Worsley on Mies
Friedrich -- Giles Worsley in the Telegraph (here) has a good review of the Mies van der Rohe show that originated at MOMA and has now opened in London. (You may have to register, but it's worth doing.) Here's a long passage: It also becomes clear that what motivated Mies, and what drove him into his Modernist experiments, was neither the search for a supposedly logical, rational architecture, nor a socially driven desire to reform the world, but a fascination with architecture as art. Mies had no underlying programme. The social underpinning of Modernist architecture left him unmoved and you have only to look at his designs in the light of a different century to realise there was nothing rational about them. They are fabulous, beautiful plays on light, space, materials and transparency.... This is a reverential exhibition, so there is no insensitive questioning of practicality, no raised eyebrows about leaking flat roofs or whether those great walls of thin glass might make the rooms a little cold. Mies is treated as the artist he was. And, like many artists across history, Mies was essentially amoral. He was prepared to work for whoever would pay for the buildings he wanted to design. In his early career, that was the moneyed classes of Berlin. He built his largest house in 1915-17 for a wealthy banker who was clearly doing well out of the First World War. Given the chance, Mies would even have worked for the Nazis. One of the most extraordinary drawings is his 1934 design for the German Pavilion at the Brussels International Exhibition, complete with swastikas. Goebbels was keen on his work, but Hitler preferred Albert Speer. Mies hung around until 1937, then he finally came to realise he was never going to build. Instead, he emigrated to America and created the house style of international capitalism. A few points I'd like to add to, or at least bring out from, Worsley's first-rate piece: * Modernist architects and their defenders have always been quick to play the progressive-politics card: we're on the side of the angels, therefore everyone who prefers other styles isn't. It can be quite astounding how quickly and ferevently this move comes at you, as though architecture is something more than a "mere" matter of crafting buildings, blocks, and neighborhoods -- and as though modernist architecture (like progressive politics itself) is on the verge of setting us "free." (Baloney, of course. But even accepting the promise, it pays to ask: free from what, exactly? As it often turns out in practice, from much of what we love -- nooks, crannies, windows that open, textures, comprehensible space, gardens, quirks, bustling blocks, and neighborhoods with character.) Well, so much for modernist architecture's political pretentions. How awful, yet how lovely, to discover that the modernist god-head Mies had, essentially, no political programme at all. Mies' Farnsworth House: A pity about the chilliness. And leakiness too. * I also want to pounce on something I was trying to point... posted by Michael at January 8, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Free Reads -- Tunes and the brain
Friedrich -- Researchers at Dartmouth using MRI studies have begun mapping out which parts of the brain are involved in recognizing musical tunes. What intrigues me more than the brain imaging news is the piece of music used in the study. Composed by a recent Dartmouth grad, Jeffrey Birk, it's 8 minutes long and moves through all 24 major and minor keys: The music was specifically crafted to shift in particular ways between and around the different keys.These relationships between the keys, representative of Western music, create a geometric pattern that is donut shaped, which is called a torus. The piece of music moves around on the surface of the torus. It moves around on the surface of a torus? Huh? What a virtuosic stunt of musical construction that must be! But what does it sound like? The press release can be read here. Found via the Human Nature Daily Review, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- Chess and intelligence
Friedrich -- Well, gee, if I have a brain cell or two, then I ought to be able to play chess well, right? But what if I can't play chess well? Does that mean I'm simply not smart? But I am, I am, I know I am... That mini-monologue, which I suspect runs in the head of more than a few people, can now come to an end, I'm thrilled to report. Helen Pearson writes in Nature magazine that brain scans suggest that the "intelligence" part of the brain appears to be inactive when someone's playing chess, or even go. "Inactive" -- that's the word she uses. Sample passage: Practice and expertise may actually account for a lot of winning moves. "Most of the stuff we think of as smart is based on experience," says psychology expert John Gabrieli of Stanford University in California. Pearson does write, though, that the research is preliminary. So maybe that self-torturing little monologue has a few years yet to run. The article is readable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Pic of the Day
Michael-- I don't know if anyone else has inserted the following image into an art context, but if not then, what the heck, here goes. The following is a portrait of George Washington if I say it is. Hubble Space Telescope Image of the Constellation Serpens Okay, so the nose isn't quite right, but I still say it's a good likeness. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 7, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Policy Break--The Basics
Michael-- In the Wall Street Journal of 1/7/03, James Q. Wilson quotes William Galston, a former Clinton Administration official, on what I would call "the basics": To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old. Only 8% of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79% will be poor. Would it be so hard to incentivize these three behaviors? It seems to me that a sensible welfare state would involve some reciprocity: if a citizen does these three things (and possibly a few more, like showing up for work regularly) then the community will be obligated to provide for him/her. If not...they're on their own. Failing such reciprocity, it would seem that we are merely socializing the consequences of irresponsible decision making. Not-so-cheerfully, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 7, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, January 6, 2003

Michael— At various times in my postings for this 'blog, I’ve emphasized the importance of religion for art. In a world and a century that defines the “secular” as being in opposition to “organized religion” and in which the secular seems firmly in the driver’s seat, this may seem to be an odd idea. We have plenty of art, and yet we live in a secular age. Picasso may have been a Spanish Catholic, but he didn’t paint altarpieces. Matisse may have decorated a chapel, but he was not a devout Christian; rather, a devout artist. When the art-consuming public sees a painting by Gary Hume entitled “Messiah” of a small boy with a zone of reflective metal left around his head, their first impression (accurate or not) will probably be that Mr. Hume is making an art-historical, not a religious reference; if religion is involved at all, it is probably ironically. In fact, for many educated people, I would hazard the notion that their knowledge of religion derives more from their knowledge of art than vice versa. So why do I keep going on about religion as the critical infrastructure of art? Well, first, I have to explain that when I use the term religion I don’t mean organized religion (or at least not only organized religion). By religion I mean any source of power recognized by a society that is "hidden," or "not-to-be-discussed-openly," or that is known "only to initiated." Perhaps magic would be a better term. The anecdote about the tribesmen who didn’t want people taking photographs of them comes to mind: the one where they thought the camera would steal their souls. When I first heard this story as a child I thought the tribesman were just humorously unsophisticated about cameras. As the years went by, however, I began to think that these pictorial bumpkins were on to something. Why did we bother to take or make pictures? Maybe we weren’t trying to steal souls, exactly, but then again maybe we were. We certainly enjoyed the power that resulted from making pictures—at the most innocent level we liked using photographs to defeat time and distance, to see things beyond the immediate range of our eyes. At a rather less innocent level, we understood that via these pictures we had created replicas of things, replicas that were now under our control. The sense of power connected with the creation and manipulation of replicas would seem to lie behind the prohibitions on idolatry and of graven images in Judaism—as well as the periodic episodes of iconoclasm that have popped up over the centuries. Any reduction of the godhead to an image suggests the potential for its manipulation by artist-magicians, and the ancient Hebrews made far too sweeping claims for their Deity to permit any artist-magicians to muck about with Him. (It's interesting that the written word doesn't seem to carry this potency in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition: the prohibition on pictures of God isn't matched by a prohibition on... posted by Friedrich at January 6, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, January 5, 2003

TV Alert
Friedrich -- Question for the day: In this era of widely-available video parlors and pay TV, who watches movies broadcast by the networks? Poor people who can’t afford cable? But AMC and Bravo show movies interrupted by commercials too, so presumably there are people who pay for cable who are willing to endure bowdlerized movies anyway. But who? No one who reads 2Blowhards, I’m sure. Anyway, on to TV Alert, our semi-regular 2Blowhards service spotlighting some of what’s appealing from this upcoming week’s TV schedule. Picks of the Week Two William Wyler gems, “The Letter” and “These Three.” Wyler may have been the most complete director of classic Hollywood. He directed films in many genres, and had command of nearly all the elements of filmmaking: performances, visuals, pacing, structure, etc. As a filmmaker, he had hardly any weaknesses, and his best movies show the Hollywood style off about as fully and well as any films ever have. Some people find his work staid or dull. Younger film buffs especially often don't see the point of Wyler; they want something kickier or more overtly idiosyncratic (Welles, Huston). But then you wake up one day, the beauty of conventional filmmaking seems plain as day, and Wyler’s stature as a master of the calm, the sumptuous, and the adult becomes clear. (Filmmaker Josh Becker has a page devoted to Wyler here.) TCM this week broadcasts two of his best, both of them from his finest period. The Letter (TCM: 10 pm Wednesday). High-class, Malaya-set melodrama, adapted from a Somerset Maugham play. Bette Davis is at her best as a plantation-owner’s wife who arrogantly thinks she can get away with murder. As the husband, Herbert Marshall gets to show off a lot of impeccably low-key style. These Three (TCM, 10 pm Thursday). Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon are teachers at a girls’ school; Bonita Granville is the student who slanders them. From Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” where the lesbian overtones were explicit. Solid, beautifully performed, moving. And visual-art nuts will love Wyler’s use of space. With the cinematographer Gregg Toland, Wyler creates a richly textured mindscape: watch the stairwells, the corridors, the windows. Movie Highlights Cookie's Fortune (IFC. 9 pm Wednesday; 1 a.m. Thursday morning). An easygoing Southern mystery-comedy charmer, with a likably eccentric cast: Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Charles Dutton and many others. Small and eccentric, the most relaxed and sweetest-natured of all Robert Altman’s movies. Set and shot in the adorable town of Holly Springs, Mississippi. Mildred Pierce (TCM, 3:30 pm Tuesday). Michael Curtiz directs from a James M. Cain novel. Florid femme-noir: Joan Crawford falls for Zachary Scott; so does Joan’s spoiled daughter Ann Blyth. Stormy, tense, and essential viewing for fans of women’s films. Moscow on the Hudson (HBO, 9 am Saturday). Comedy/drama by Paul Mazursky, and one of the best showcases for his distinctively soulful and rueful tone. Robin Williams, playing a jazz-loving Russian Jew who immigrates to the U.S., is surprisingly touching and subdued -- such an... posted by Michael at January 5, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

What I did on my Winter Vacation
Michael, dude-- So there I was, out in the middle of the desert near Palm Springs, taking this picture for you. But right after I snapped it I was attacked by giant ants, man. I had to haul out of there on foot and by the time I got to civilization I was dehydrated and they put me in the hospital and I just got out and now I'm sending it, okay? Sorry to miss the holidays, but it's the thought that counts, right? Later, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 5, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments