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  1. Pic of the Day
  2. The Color of Animal Spirits?
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  5. Chaos of History: Art from 1920
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  7. More on These Kids These Days Redux
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  9. Getting Ready for '04
  10. Guest Posting -- Charles Sestok

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Saturday, August 30, 2003

Pic of the Day
Michael: I stumbled across a fascinating book today entitled “The Secret Art of Dr. Suess.” I didn’t realize that Theodor Geisel had done a good deal of art outside of his labors as a cartoonist and the illustrator of his own children’s books. Looking through the book also made me realize (I guess I’m just slow to the party) how thoroughly libidinous his art was, and at the same time how elegant. The book contains a picture of Geisel painting in his studio when he appears north of sixty, yet he’s got quite a sense of style (to say nothing of a terrific head of hair.) I know nothing about his private life, but one would have to guess that, at least if he had wanted to, he could have cut quite a swath as a ladies’ man. I also had no idea that he was a sculptor as well as a painter and a draftsman, which is where today’s picture comes in. The following is made from plaster, real animal horns, oil paint and a wooden base. It is not only, of course, a witty comment on the whole notion of hunting trophy heads, but also confirms that he certainly didn’t condescend stylistically to children; this predates his first published children’s book by three years. T. Geisel, Semi-Normal Green Lidded Fawn, 1934 Enjoy, Friedrich P.S. You've got to click on the thumbnail above to see a big enough picture to appreciate the fawn's eyelids.... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Color of Animal Spirits?
Michael: As an old son of Detroit, I probably put too much emphasis on cars as a reflection of the temper of the times. But since I can’t help myself, I figure I might as well share at least one of my zaney automotive theories with you. This one concerns car color. To be specific, that very intense shade of yellow they started marketing, mostly on sporty cars, about three years ago. I’ve been wondering if that yellow would ever catch on and rival, say, bright red in the car market. So far its popularity has been spotty—not accelerating to escape velocity and becoming a major presence in the market, but not disappearing altogether, either. Should We Call this Color Post-Bubble Yellow? Given the timing, I have been unable to avoid associating the on-again, off-again presence of this sporty new color with the on-again, off-again performance of the economy. It’s as if the car manufacturers used this color to test the emotional waters, to take the temperature of the post-bubble economy. I wonder if Alan Greenspan and the Fed take statistics like the penetration of jazzy new colors in the car market when evaluating how much stimulus to apply to the economy? (Or, if not, maybe they should.) Okay, so it’s another one of my crazy ideas. But I wonder if there isn’t a doctoral thesis for some behavioral economist in there somewhere. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, August 29, 2003

Pixelvision Meets Thongworld
Friedrich -- * I walk to Penn Station to catch a train out to a friend's place on the island. Lordy, what a girlwatching summer it's been -- a riot of tummies, of front and rear cleavage, of stretchy-clingy fabrics, of wispy, abbreviated layers of this and that. Those white pants women are wearing this summer -- are they really meant to be ever-so-slightly transparent? Underwear has been on public view for more than a few years now, of course -- I've seen this described as "deconstructed clothing." But even so ... In any case, the girls and women remind me of the chic new architecture: a matter of ever-shifting translucent panes, of alluring surfaces twinkling one right behind another, all of them beguiling the eye while moving forward and back, in and out. Some people find this kind of thing to be bliss. I find it to be like an endless diet of whirling TV graphics. Walking around the city these days, I have to do my deliberate best not to walk into lampposts. Casual girlwatching used to be an easy-to-manage thing, something I could do semi-consciously. Now the pressure is so high and the attractions are so loud that it's almost impossible not to girlwatch. * It's my first time on a NY commuter train in a few years and I can't keep my mind on the book I'd like to be reading, Jack Kelly's very good hardboiled PI novel Mobtown (buyable here). Am I feeling frazzled? Has my 50-year-old brain finally given out? Nope: it's cellphones. I'd heard from commuter friends how intrusive they can be, and I recall newspaper articles discussing the possibility of cell-phone-free train cars. I now understand why: the devices are amazingly effective at stitching holes in your zone of privacy. They do so in ways the usual train distractions (snoring, newspaper-rattling, conversations a few seats away) don't. The tweeting and chirping, the way people speak so loudly into them ... But what's most distracting is overhearing only one side of a conversation. Why should this be so especially annoying? Like many of the new digital toys, cell phones make sinking into your own thought-world difficult. It's as though they were designed specifically to distract, and to prevent you from entering any kind of reflective state. * It's striking how the display of near-intimate body parts -- and of piercings and tatoos (properly placed: tailbone, shoulder, etc) -- has become a standard part of the competent new young woman's get-up. Here's my theory about tatoos, piercings and implants. Much that used to be considered intimate and private is now public property, yet a woman still needs to hold a little something in reserve. How to do so? She can't hide behind clothes any more. So the defenses are now placed under (or through) the skin itself. She may be presenting her body in a near-naked state, but something still stands behind the real her and the rest of the world. A related theory... posted by Michael at August 29, 2003 | perma-link | (29) comments

Which Movie Couple Are You?
Friedrich -- The Wife and I had a typical morning -- which means, in short, that she tried to have a "meaningful conversation" while I tried to establish some plans and facts. It was all a blur of mild indignation, mild exasperation, this and that -- and very fond, loving and familiar, needless to say. Then we got on with the day. As usual. We're a cliche straight out of the pages of "Mars/Venus" and "You Just Don't Understand," in other words. She's the ditzy blonde who's always in the midst of one semi-developed feeling or other, and ever on the verge of a free-associating monologue about her amazing self; I'm just-the-facts Mr. Literal, gazing on his spacey lady with loving bemusement, and wondering why life can't occasionally be a little simpler. She's (mildly) offended when I ask her what she's getting at; I'm (fondly) exhausted by the endless circling and picking-apart. The Wife sometimes compares us to Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser in "Mad About You"; I'm more reminded of Gracie Allen and George Burns, but I see her point. (I'd better.) I'm tempted by a few Larger Reflections here, mainly along the lines of, Sheesh, the older you get the less remarkable you realize you are. Why are we as young people convinced we're unique? But I'll resist the bait, and will instead limit myself to asking: Which archetypal movie or tv couple do you and your wife tend to find you resemble? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Chaos of History: Art from 1920
Michael: This is the next posting in my continuing, if wildly idiosyncratic, survey of art. My organizational method is not narrative, but strictly chronological, with the goal of showing something of the diversity of painting from a given moment in time. Although previously I’ve been moving forward in time decade by decade, I realized that I somehow skipped over art from around the year 1920, so I’ve decided to back up and fill in this gap. The dominant formal characteristic of art c. 1920 was linear design. As you can see below, most of the paintings function as something closely akin to colored drawings. Even the Guy Rose, in his painting of Point Lobos has, for all his Impressionist technique, emphasized the linear quality of his composition, rather than its atmospheric effects. (Partly, one suspects, that this is a tribute to the cultural prestige enjoyed in 1920 by Cubism, and partially the mediumistic quality of visual artists, always testing the art-ether with their antennae.) FEMALE PORTRAITS J. Gris, Portrait of Josette Gris, 1916; E. Coonan, Girl in Dotted Dress, 1923 LANDSCAPE C. Burchfield, Noontide in Late May, 1917; G. Rose, Point Lobos, Carmel, 1918 FEMALE NUDES P. Picasso, Large Bather, 1921; A. Modigliani, Standing Nude (Elvira), 1918 METAPHYSICAL MOOD PIECES W. Kandinsky, Yellow, Red, Blue, 1925; F. Johnston, Serenity:Lake of the Woods, 1922 Be honest: doesn’t that “Serenity: Lake of the Woods” make you want to move to Canada and take up painting? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Friedrich -- * Mike May, who regained his powers of sight thanks to a stem-cell procedure, has written his own account about it for the Guardian -- thanks to Srdjan Keca for pointing this out. May's diary is readable here. "I found it very distracting to look at people's faces when I was having a conversation," he writes. "I can see their lips moving, eyelashes flickering, head nodding and hands gesturing. At first, I tried looking down, but if it was a woman in a low-cut top that would be even more distracting. It was easier to close my eyes or tune out the visual input." * Alexandra Ceely (once again posting regularly at her wonderful blog Out of Lascaux, here) found this piece by Victoria James from the Japan Times about prehistoric art, here. It's full of interesting news about how the ways people think about very ancient art have changed in the last few decades. * Your questions answered. Two beyond-first-rate articles that Denis Dutton, the editor of Arts and Letters Daily, has written for the Oxford Handbook for Aesthetics are now online: "Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology" (here), and "Authenticity in Art" (here). One of our goals here at 2Blowhards is to help people who are eager to ditch the modernist/po-mo/decon straitjacket find threads that are more comfy, useful and sensible -- hence our championing of thinkers like Michael Oakeshott, Christopher Alexander and Nikos Salingaros, Michael Polanyi, Ellen Dissanayake, Frederick Turner, Steven Pinker, V. S. Ramachandran and others. Dutton's at the top of this list, both with articles like these and with ALD itself. * Some fascinating lightness-darkness optical illusions created by Edward Adelson can be seen here. * Terry Teachout responds to Aaron Haspel and others on the greatness question here. (All necessary links are in the posting.) It's good to see a pro critic like Terry get more into the give-and-take that's such an important part of blogging. It took me a long while to find the swing myself, so I'll be curious to read Terry's reflections about blogging once he's found his groove. Writing reviews, giving speeches, and doing criticism it ain't, even if those are a few of the things it can be. Tim Hulsey has his say about greatness here. * Good lord, did you know that Cornell has hired the loony former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to be a visiting professor? Read about it here. * During a recent tour through Western New York's Finger Lakes region, The Wife and I spent an absorbing couple of hours at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, NY. Housed in an 1833 neo-classical mansion, the Arnot's an attractive and resourceful place. Open-minded too: unlike many of the trendier, big-city, first-tier museums, the Arnot's hip to the current revival of figurative art. Their current exhibition is called "Re-presenting Representation VI," and despite the awful name it's a knockout. (It includes one large stunner by Raymond Han, whose work I love and posted briefly about here.) The Arnot's... posted by Michael at August 28, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

More on These Kids These Days Redux
Michael: Your posting, More on These Kids These Days, got me to thinking about the whole notion of generational perspectives…and, of course, the really important perspective: mine. It strikes me that as a 'baby boomer,' despite the constant propaganda I heard in my youth, I haven't spent much time at the cutting edge of history. In fact, I would say that I’ve actually lived in a rather more stable world than either my immediate ancestors did or my children are likely to live in. This is of course a highly subjective notion, but I offer the example of my grandfather. He was born in 1890 and lived into the 1970s. Technologically he saw the introduction of flight, automobiles, movies, television, recorded music, atomic energy, spaceflight, ICBMs, antibiotics, etc. Militarily he fought in WWI, sent his son and son-in-law off to WWII and advised his grandchildren to avoid Vietnam. Economically he witnessed the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the postwar affluence. In comparison, I have to admit I’ve lived in a pretty stable universe. My feeling is that the after a sort of 30-year-lull (during which advances in information technology and telecommunications had the biggest impact on my everyday life), the pace of change seems to be picking up again. With advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience, I’m thinking things are going to start getting weird again—possibly as weird as seeing airplanes flying must have been to someone born around the Civil War. Now maybe society has “internalized” the ability to absorb technological change easier than in previous eras. (I think the huge social upheavals from the relatively modest technological changes of the early industrial revolution were, in part, a consequence of living in societies that simply had no experience with that sort of change at all. Which is not to criticize those first few generations. Heck, at least they didn’t react by dreaming up things like Fascism, Communism and concentration camps.) I certainly hope this is true, but as a congenitally hopeful pessimist, I have my moments of doubt. As Saul Bellow once remarked, the predominant “modern” emotion is suspense—how will it all turn out? I certainly find this suspense to be heightened by the act of parenthood. At some times I find my thoughts on my children’s future to be summarized in some lines of dialogue from a 1940’s era "love on the run" movie. A young woman on the lam from the law asks her husband if their baby will ever know any peace or security. The man turns toward her and says, unsentimentally: "He'll have to take his chances, the same as the rest of us." At other times I’m more hopeful, and, my feelings can be summarized by a quote taken from Nietzsche: “Man is an animal that can find its way in any maze.” Where do you, as more of a congenital (if cranky) optimist come out on all of this? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. I haven't checked those quotes, so they should be presented... posted by Friedrich at August 28, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

More on These Kids These Days
Friedrich -- Do you hang out much with Gen-Yers? By which I suppose I mean kids younger than 35 but older than your daughters. The Wife and I do. We like 'em: youth, energy, new styles, hopefulness, delusions -- they're fun to be around. Our own flagging batteries get a bit of a recharging. What a relief the Yers are from our own messianic, let's-politicize everything Boomer cohort, now well into their self-dramatizing decline. (The Xers? With a few exceptions, best ignored and forgotten, at least as far as I'm concerned.) The Yers may have none of the inwardness, mystery and charm of tradition-based generations, but they're often sweet, bright, quick, funny and super-energized. And, god bless 'em, I've met very few who feel a compulsive need to politicize much of anything. They're uninhibited, to say the least. They pull faces. They run around clicking on buttons, their own and other people's. If they seem to have no idea what an internal life is, well, the way they externalize everything instantly is often sparkly and inventive. They're all about being children acting out, which is normally something that annoys me. But many of them do it cheerfully, as well as with a sense of their own absurdity. To my surprise, I'm amused. They, they ... Well, what the Wife and I have decided they really are is animated characters. They bear the same relationship to that historical artifact known as "people" that cartoons do to a live action movie. Everything is potentially changeable, all the time. Everything's a little brighter than normal, and the energy level's 'way higher. When they dash off, they leave behind a cloud of pixel-smoke. Boing! Zip! Twang! They often remind us of characters in Japanese anime, or of computer animation. "Or of the Muppets," says The Wife, who claims that the facial expressions the Gen-Yers like putting on come straight from the Muppets' TV show. When I'm in one of my gloomily-worrying-about-where-the-world's-going moods, I think of these young people as holograms. They're nothing but see-through creatures, wire-frame models -- creations of mood drugs, pop culture, academic feminism and electronics, mere phantoms for whom nothing exists until it's gotten a good electronic making-over and pumping-up. Where's the reality? Is anyone at home? And what's to become of traditional culture and traditional values? I'm a little anxious about how these no-depth beasties are going to react when they encounter such non-digital inevitabilities as illness, betrayal, and disappointment, let alone the shutting-down of possibilities. They'll manage, of course. But what will they have to draw on once the energy goes? They can vent all they want, but life's frustrations aren't going to go away. Thinking like this gets me reflecting that part of what traditional culture's about is creating, nourishing and exercising what used to be thought of as "depth," or maybe even "your soul." (Hey, here's a Suzanne Fields column that argues more or less the same thing.) One of the things traditional culture is good for... posted by Michael at August 28, 2003 | perma-link | (31) comments

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Getting Ready for '04
Friedrich -- I notice that the weirdos who enjoy buzzing about the horse-race side of politics are starting to buzz about the '04 presidential election -- sigh. Still, no way to escape the fuss. So how might the cultureblogworld contribute? I think I've come up with something useful. You know those appearances where the candidates take questions from the real-Americans in attendance? I'd like to see the cultureblogosphere agitate for a better quality of question. I'll kick it off with the one I'd most like to see asked: * Mr./Ms. Candidates: We all know that the government screws up at least three out of four things it tries to accomplish. Which means there are a lot of Offices-of and Bureaus-of and Departments-of around these days that are doing little but sucking up money and energy. Please list five governmental programs or departments that you vow to close down, should you be elected. Got any questions you'd like to see the candidates be asked? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Guest Posting -- Charles Sestok
Friedrich -- An on-the-front-lines report about the New Urbanism from 2Blowhards visitor Charles Sestok, who left a comment that I can't resist copying and pasting into its own posting. Charles is currently an electrical-engineering graduate student in Boston, but he has split time the last few years between his studies in Boston and summer consulting stints at a large electronics firm in Dallas. I spent time as a summer intern living in an apartment development designed with some of the New Urbanist ideas in mind. The design ideas produced a more livable community than any of the other apartment "complexes" I've called home. A typical apartment complex in Dallas is an archipelago of identical two-story buildings surrounded with a sea of asphalt parking lots. A cheap fence rings the complex; the illusion of security it provides is insufficient compensation for the daily difficulties of coming and going by car. Not only is this design pattern bland, the heat capacity of the asphalt and the lack of trees and grass multiply the unpleasant summer heat. The new development I resided in, Post Addison Circle, struck a balance between a viable street-level pedestrian existence and the realities of life in car-centric Dallas. The buildings, while constructed wholesale on a formerly vacant lot next to a major highway, each had individual style. Each building is four stories high, covers an entire block, and has a parking structure in the rear, disguised to match the style of the front. The buildings of the development center on a boulevard with a park in the middle. Near the intersection of the development's main street with the highway, the ground floor of the buildings had restaurants and convenience stores as tenants. During the day, they drew customers from surrounding offices, and attracted foot-traffic from residents at night. The design of each individual building enhanced the experience of the residents. The buildings focus inwards on central plazas. The apartments were built on three sides of the square with the parking forming the fourth. The central plazas had either swimming pools or gardens, and an effort to provide harmonious sculpture had been made. The design focused recreational activites and improved my opportunity to socialize with my neighbors. In total, I thought that the development used several of the concepts advocated by Alexander and Salingaros effectively. It was a terrific improvement over my prior residence, which had a design allusive of Le Corbusier's antiseptic plans. Now that I live in Boston, I live in a city that embodies these ideas naturally. Actually I prefer the design of Addison circle because it effectively incorporated the use of a car. Ample parking was available there, but was cleverly concealed. The same isn't true in Boston, where car ownership is simultaneously necessity and nuisance. Additionally, the central park of the main boulevard and the plazas gave the development more public space than a comparably dense neighborhood here. I think that both the Addison Circle apartment development and the Boston walk-up where I currently... posted by Michael at August 27, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friedrich -- * In the great New Urbanism debates, it's now Haspel vs. Sucher. Well, not really: Aaron and David are playing on the same team: better buildings, better neighbhorhoods and better cities, please. But how to get there? I've written before about the quandary: while I'm no fan of burdensome regulations, I still find it hard to deny that many of the country's most attractive cities are heavily zoned. In a posting here, Aaron is working towards a purely-libertarian approach; in the posting's comments and on his own blog (here), David takes a seasoned-realist stance. My own view of what to do? Boils down to two words: "beats me." * Brian Micklethwait, noticing that his ears open up to classical music when he's playing computer Solitaire, does some musing about brain processes here. Amusing and thoughtful reflections that are of special interest to me, married as I am to a Solitaire-lovin' classical-music buff. * Have you heard of the poet/novelist/critic Thomas Disch? He's amazing, as well as amazingly undersung. I'd write a long, rhapsodic posting about him but for one thing: I have zero feeling for the kind of fiction he writes, which is sci-fi and horror. So I'm simply no judge. But I certainly think he's a major poet -- wicked and informal even while playing sly changes on traditional forms. I never have the sense that I'm doing my dreary lit duty when I read his poetry; instead, I think, "Wow, accessible yet sophisticated! Cheery yet perverse! What fun, and how cool!" I also think he's a major critic. "The Castle of Indolence," his collection of pieces about contempo poetry (buyable here), is a joy: full of terrific evocations and descriptions, as well as informed jabs at how academic and ingrown the poetry world has become. (Do you find most writing about contempo poetry as perplexing as I do? The critics seem off in their own hyperrefined ozone, listening to music mere mortals can't hear.) He's also written some first-class art and drama criticism -- hard to believe that he hasn't become better-known as a reviewer than he has. As for the fiction? Well, I know that he's prolific, and that he was well-known as one of the counterculture pop-culture buffs who tried to make sci-fi more hip and contempo back in the '60s and '70s. I've read a few of the books and was impressed, but don't trust me on this. Still, a tip of the hat to him. I'm apparently not the only Disch fan who's in this position. I was talking to a composer friend a few months ago. "I think he's probably a really major figure even though I can't read sci-fi," I frothed. She looked thoughtful for a few seconds and said, "You know, I can't read sci-fi either. But even so I think you may be right." In any case, I bet that you won't regret reading this interview with him here, or exploring this excellent fansite here. * Arts and... posted by Michael at August 27, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Postmodernism for Dummies
Michael: I've actually been reading that book, "Postmodernism for Dummies"—er, no, “Postmodernism for Beginners” by James M. Powell—that you sent me. (Thanks for the gift.) While I in no way claim to be a great or even a small expert on Postmodern thought, I have been doing a lot of reading in French history this past year. As a consequence, I followed with some interest a section of Mr. Powell’s book that attempts (rather lamely) to deal with the question of why postmodern theorists are all, or nearly all, French. Since I didn’t find the book’s explanation—that intellectuals in France crank out heavy, dense, theoretical tomes because that’s a good way to get laid in Paris—to be very convincing, let me hazard my own crude, stupid, American explanation: I would guess that postmodernism is so Franco-centric because the real subject of Postmodern theory is France. Perhaps a better way to put this would be to say that postmodernism is about the experience of being French in the late 20th century...after your country suffered a degrading collapse (and then collaborated with the Nazis) in World War II, after your country suffered the humiliating loss of Vietnam and Algeria (and nearly succumbed to a military coup in disengaging from the latter), after being displaced as the world center of art and culture, and after being economically colonized by American transnational business. Hey, talk about being decentered! This may be rather glib, but I'm not done. Let’s take Lyotard's "death of meta-narratives." I’d say the biggest meta-narrative that ceased to be credible around, say, 1945, was the notion of France as the center of the world, the Grand Nation, the birthplace of the Revolution, the place where everything important happened and always would happen. (The Marxism of Sartre’s generation was a sort of rear-guard defense of this crumbling meta-narrative, because, bien sur, Marx was an intellectual offshoot of the Revolution and hence, French by association.) Or how about Baudrillard's theories about the "death of the real" and the growth of "hyperreality"? Doesn’t that sound a lot like a description of the displacement of traditional French culture by American and international media culture? (By the way, if "Postmodernism for Beginners” is accurate, Baudrillard's discussion of the history of simulacra rather humorously skips over the iconclasm of the Reformation, which I suppose makes sense to a French intellectual because, hey, if it didn’t happen in France, it might as well have not happened at all!) Then there are Foucault's theories about power, knowledge and resistance. I don’t know, but they sound a lot like life under the German occupation to me, as well as a discussion of the life under the continuing Vichy-like authoritarian strain in French politics and society. But probably the best example is Derrida and his notions of how there is a sort of unstable shifting back and forth between "privileged" and "marginalized" readings of the same text. Hmmm, what could have prompted that notion? Let’s see, over the past 214 years... posted by Friedrich at August 26, 2003 | perma-link | (23) comments

La Mort du Cinema Francais?
Friedrich -- The other day, I was talking to a young Frenchman (17ish -- an older French boy?). Very bright -- going into engineering, just got his Bac -- and well-traveled for a kid his age. I asked him about the movies he and his friends choose to see. He told me that, with only a few big-hit exceptions ("Amelie" was the one he cited), they almost never go see French movies, which they find boring. "Nothing happens in them," he said with a good Gallic shrug. Instead, he and his buds go to the same American movies everyone else sees. Rather wittily, I thought, he said he prefers movies with lots of explosions, and where glamorous stars do a lot of running. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, August 25, 2003

Guest Posting -- Rick Darby
Friedrich -- One of those post-college surprises: how much time and energy attending to basic maintenance eats up. Given that fact, and given how few people manage to do the time-effective thing of making a living at some kind of satisfying arts job, how do arty people sustain their interest in the arts? And how do they organize their lives so they manage to keep the pleasures of art alive? Rick Darby, one of our most enjoyable commenters, has enlightened and entertained with observations about many topics, from Vedanta to immigration. In an email exchange, he also volunteered this: I used to be in the culturebiz, quite a few years ago now. Did PR and advertising for the Boston Ballet Company (where I discovered that I adored ballet ... for the first 10 minutes of a performance, after which it put me to sleep) and the Albany Symphony Orchestra (it wasn't the Vienna Phil, but it wasn't bad either). Eventually I had enough of artistic temperament, arrogant rich board members and constant crisis. These days I'm a writer and editor at the Flight Safety Foundation (, encouraging airlines to transport their passengers to their destination in one piece, if that is at all possible. I've found that there aren't many good jobs for writers. Journalism -- especially, daily journalism (my parents both wrote for AP) -- is a ticket on the express to Burnout City. Advertising is a crazy boom-and-bust business, champagne one week when the shop lands a new account, clean-out-your-desk notices a few months later when a client hits the bricks. I've worked as an advertising copywriter and radio commercial director and quite enjoy the work itself, but it's mostly the biggest agencies in big cities that have full-time copywriters these days, and I don't like big cities. Anyway, copywriting is becoming something of a lost art ... advertising is all about graphics and animation these days. I enjoy those too, but I hardly ever see a well written print ad these days, and I miss them. Working for the Boston Ballet and the Albany Symphony Orchestra was interesting -- it's fun to see behind the scenes and meet the artistes -- but the PR people at arts organizations get low pay and nil respect. Plus lots of people in arts management are (perhaps understandably) paranoid, always afraid they're about to get the chop. It doesn't make for a friendly work environment. I was also a sort of in-house freelancer in the PR department of WGBH Boston, which produces Masterpiece Theatre and all. The people in the department were very talented and intelligent, and the coldest mob I've ever met. There seems to be an idea that you can eliminate some of the insecurity by being rude to anyone who might conceivably replace you. Although the subject matter isn't as interesting to an "arts guy" like me, I've actually enjoyed for the most part working in technical or semi-technical fields as a tech editor. Engineers and such aren't... posted by Michael at August 25, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

They Know Too Much
Michael: I picked up a weird but interesting magazine over the weekend: American Demographics. It’s subtitle: “Consumer Trends for Business Leaders” describes the editorial content; the ads are mostly for companies offering what is termed “geodemographic segmentation.” One of its stories, “Street Wiser” describes how this works: Gwen St. Clair can tell you exactly who puts the worth in Fort Worth…As special features manager in the ad department at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, St. Clair’s job is to help 40 or so advertisers—cosmetic surgeons, swimming pool builders, high-end audio entertainment retailers and the like—comb through the 240,000 daily circulation base…and beyond, to identify the crčme de la crčme among readers and non-readers in the nation’s seventh largest market….[T]his is where Panache comes in. Panache is the Star-Telegram’s lifestyles magazine, created to allow advertisers to zero in on affluent readers…Panache has been around for about six years, but it struggled at an anemic 16 pages until February of this year. At that time, it shifted from ZIP code to address-specific distribution along newspaper routes, landing at the homes of only those residents with incomes in the $100,000-plus range. The May and June issues suddenly swelled to 40 pages, thanks to a host of newly enthused advertisers…Selective insertion [a la Panache] is still [restricted to] a few pioneering newspapers, but the Star-Telegram’s unique use of it is due in large part to a market segmentation system—Claritas’ PRIZM—that offers the mailbox-by-mailbox specificity [that] Panache advertisers so crave. Well, the next time you get some direct mail or other advertising that seems to know exactly who you are and where you live and how much tread life remains on your right rear tire, you know who to thank—or blame. (Well, at least you do in Fort Worth, although I must admit that Gwen St. Clair sounds a lot like the fake name some shady broad would use in a hard-boiled detective story.) And let's not forget our favorite vendor, Claritas. Even though it's the dominant player in the geodemographic segmentation market with roughly 67% market share, it is by no means alone; its competitors are, in some ways, even more “sophisticated”: Acxiom positions its Personicx system as the best for capturing purchase motivation and intent behavior related to key life stage changes, while AGS/Experian attempts to cobble an advantage for MOSAIC clients through aggressive alliances with media-consumption and purchase behavior researchers like MRI, Simmons Market Research, Scarborough and Media Audit. Those alliances are aggressive, or so I imagine, in layering what is known about your purchasing and credit history on top of your neighborhood, educational credentials, and anything else a total stranger may want to take note of before pitching you to buy something. And…get this…our friends at American Demographics are interested in blogs and those who read them! (Isn’t that hitting close to home?) According to a study commissioned by AD with research firm Ipsos-Reid, only 17% of American adults are aware of blogs, and only 5% claim to have read one. The... posted by Friedrich at August 25, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments