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  1. Religion, Mud Wrestling and Art
  2. The (Indirect) Costs of Crummy Schools
  3. Tacit Knowledge -- Digital Film Editing
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright Redux
  5. Milwaukee Art Museum
  6. Pic of the Day -- Romare Bearden
  7. Policy Break--Securities Fraud and Its Enablers
  8. True Art School Tales
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Friday, September 12, 2003

Religion, Mud Wrestling and Art
Michael: If the French in the first decade of the 20th century could create Modern Art that accurately mirrored their social anxieties and burning issues, why has most Modern and contemporary American art has turned out to be so emotionally distant, muffled and, well, wise-ass? I can only suspect it’s because Americans naively believed the academic line that Modern Art was a self-contained, largely formal exercise in which the only subject matter was an ever-purer understanding of Modernity Itself (generally conceived of as an extended acid bath of Marxist alienation). Alternatively, if they couldn't handle such austerity, they embraced the Duchampian notion that what made a something “art” was the privileged (and presumably superior) consciousness the artist brought to contemplating it. To illustrate how damaging both these theories of art have been to American art, I’d like to highlight just how differently one artist responded to all manner of real-world human preoccupations in Modern Art’s country of origin. To give you a sense of the social context this artist was working with, I’m going to be sketching out a little history of religion in the Third Republic. Then I’ll show how in 1907 several issues that were either directly religious or bound up with religion were successfully incorporated into an iconic modern painting, Picasso’s “Demoiselles D’Avignon.” P. Picasso, Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, 1907 The Third Republic was born in 1871 as the result of the collapse of the authoritarian Second Empire of Napoleon III. After a decade or so of political infighting, the Third Republic came to be dominated by France’s rising “new class,” the urban bourgeoisie. However, powerful groups—the Catholic Church, the large rural landowners and the army, among others—were never reconciled to the largely secular, religiously pluralistic and democratic views of the urban bourgeois republicans. Bourgeois republican politicians reciprocated this hostility. They retaliated by attacking what they felt was the most vulnerable symbol of the unreconstructed right—the Catholic Church. These bourgeois republicans figured they’d go after two birds with one stone. The first bird was a religious “gender gap”: the Catholic Church in the latter 19th century was far more popular among the women of France than among the men. The second bird they aimed at was the Catholic Church’s almost complete control of education in France. In 1880 the bourgeois republicans passed a law that established a system of secular public secondary education for girls. In 1882 they passed a law making elementary education free, compulsory and notably lacking in religious instruction. In 1886 republicans passed a law that prohibited Catholic priests or nuns from teaching in the public schools. Combined with the 1884 passage of a law permitting divorce—which, after being legalized during the Revolution, had been banned again under ecclesiastical pressure since the restoration of the Monarchy in 1816—the republicans were determined to pry the fingers of the Church away from their children and, especially, their women. These reforms however, had unintended consequences. Women didn’t merely use their secondary and, eventually, university educations to “take an... posted by Friedrich at September 12, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments

The (Indirect) Costs of Crummy Schools
Michael: There’s a curious divide I cross every day going to work. As I drive from Ventura County, where I live, to Los Angeles County, where my business is located, housing costs fall. And they fall dramatically—as in multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reason why? I travel from the Los Virgenes School District, generally considered the best public school district in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, to the Los Angeles Unified Public School District, generally considered one of the worst. This had led me to remark, from time to time, in letters to Los Angeles politicians, that if they really wanted to do something nice for their constituents, they would improve the public schools. Trust me, even those constituents without school-age children would notice, big time. (A measure of my political clout, or lack thereof, has been the utter absence of activity on the part of said politicians in this direction. I also get a lot of mail asking me for campaign donations from these same deadbeat politicians. All in all, a sort of a lose-lose situation.) News that the real estate consequences of good or bad public schools are not a merely local phenomena, and that those consequences have had a terrific impact on the whole notion of what it means to be middle class, came from a column in the New York Times by Jeff Madrick, “The No-Frills Middle Class.” (You can read this column, now in the NYT archives, if you’re willing to shell out here.) In this column Mr. Madrick reviews a book by a mother-daughter team Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, “The Two Income Trap.” The book discusses the growing debt load on middle class families and disproves the notion that a lot of profligate consumer spending is going on. Per Mr. Madrick: The authors find that despite the popular notions about overconsumption, a typical family spends less on clothing today, discounted for inflation, than in the early 1970's. Similarly, it spends less on large appliances and on food, including going out to restaurants. As for vacation homes, the data suggest that 3.2 percent of families had them in 1973, and that 4 percent do now. So what is the main culprit--or at least, along with increasing health care costs, one of the main culprits? …what families spend a lot more on, the authors calculate, is a house in a safe neighborhood with a good school — about 70 percent more a year, discounted for inflation, for the typical family of four. The scarcity of good schooling has created a bidding war that drives up house prices in first-rate school districts. [emphasis added] This same phenomenon is observable at the higher education level, as well. Mr. Madrick calculates that the costs of higher education have consistently outpaced increases in family income for the past thirty years. These tuition increases have neatly paralleled the availability of Federally subsidized student loans in a textbook example of why subsidies can end up hurting the people... posted by Friedrich at September 12, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tacit Knowledge -- Digital Film Editing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- How do ideas (and perceptions, observations and such) come to you? Can you bring them into being at will? I usually can't. Things tend to occur to me at their own pace and in their own way. I'm able to get away with a little drilling and mining, but the results aren't usually fab. My system has never responded well to being ordered around, and has grown less tolerant of bullying with age. Most of what does occur to me arrives unplanned and unsought -- and often, alas, when it couldn't be more inconvenient: in the shower, as I'm crossing a busy street ... It's such a regular feature of the way my brain, such as it is, seems to work that I sometimes wonder whether sheer inconvenience doesn't somehow function as a spur to my imagination. What's a guy to do? Me, I try to adapt and play along -- which, in practical terms, means that I carry a pen and some 3x5 cards with me at all times, dorky as that is. Should something intriguing choose to set sail across my field of awareness, I can get it down on paper. I try to keep alert to the muses even when it comes to blogging. Unlike many bloggers, I'm happiest writing associatively -- bringing together a lot of this-and-that, and figuring out ways of ordering and presenting these scraps that are entertaining and might even make a little sense. How best to do this? My perhaps boneheaded solution: keeping postings under construction for a loooonng time -- a few hours, even a few days. That way, if something useful or amusing should choose to show up when, say, I'm at the salad bar getting lunch, I can jot it down and later work it into the posting. Or maybe not! Gotta keep these options -- even the negative ones -- open and alive whenever possible. What's provoked this self-indulgent bit of narcissizing -- and I'm a regular Cloud of Unknowing today, aren't I -- was a conversation I had the other night with a movie editor. I've talked to a fair number of editors, and over the last 10 years what the talk has always turned to is tools -- specifically to the way that their craft's tools have gone digital, and to how that has affected their professional lives as well as the quality of their work. It's all pluses, no? Faster, easier ... What's not to like? And there's no denying that computers have made the executing of cuts much faster and easier than it once was. But is physically making the cuts all there is to film editing? The digitization of film editing has led to hurry-up schedules: get that job done faster! Computers also make it easy (in a physical sense, at least) to create alternative versions of scenes and sequences, even of entire movies. And bosses (studios, producers) want to see those versions. Bosses like having options... posted by Michael at September 12, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Frank Lloyd Wright Redux
Friedrich -- It's been fun to watch the Frank Lloyd Wright discussion make its rounds through the blogosphere. Culturegab -- all right! Participants have seemed to fall into two camps: the "it leaks, therefore the hell with it" camp; and the "its beauty trumps all its other faults" camp. I'd like to think I hit a slightly more subtle note in my own posting (here), something perhaps along the lines of "he's a major figure, sure, and his work is often beautiful, sure; but it's often more troublesome and rigid than its reputation indicates, and than many people would be willing to put up with for long." But maybe I didn't. Anyway, many interesting contributions from every which where. It's heartening to see such a conversation take off at all, come to think of it. Oftentimes when the name of one of the Greats comes up, the conversation stops dead in its tracks -- the word "great" too often seems to have that effect, doesn't it? I for one much prefer taking part in a lively and open conversation to bickering over whether something or someone is Great. There's one thing that I do think it's worth trying to straighten out. Some of the "beauty trumps all else" crowd seem under the impression that their opponents are weirdos for raising such questions as livability and flexibility, let alone whether or not you're going to go broke trying to keep the place together -- why, they're just missing the point of True Architecture (let alone True Greatness)! Um, er. What's weird isn't worrying about bumping your head, or the rising damp, or whether you're going to have to put out buckets in the middle of the living room to catch the leaking rainwater -- these are normal concerns, and more than valid in a discussion of a building's worth. What's weird is trying to confine a discussion about an architect's work to the sole question of whether or not it's beautiful. This isn't just my perverse opinion, by the way. Here are the terms by which architecture has almost always been discussed: "Commodity, firmness and delight." (From Vitruvius, the earliest ancient whose writings on architecture we have.) Which means: the appropriateness and fitness of the design to what it's intended for; the quality of its construction; and its beauty. (And notice the order these criteria are presented in.) Through all of recorded history -- the modernist era aside, of course -- these are the terms by which the judgment and discussion of architecture have taken place. That's a couple of millenia vs. one century, by the way. So, focusing on beauty and beauty alone in a discussion of architecture? OK, sure, fine, and I'd be the last person to try to pass a law against it. But let's get one thing straight: historically speaking, it's weird. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2003 | perma-link | (30) comments

Milwaukee Art Museum
Friedrich -- Bilbao on Lake Michigan? Ever since Frank Gehry put Bilbao on the art-tourist map, small cities have dreamed of commissioning a piece of starchitecture that'll attract moneyed throngs. And a number have actually gone ahead and built themselves fancy-schmancey new buildings, mostly museums. How are they working out? Deborah Wilk has written a good piece for Chicago magazine about the Quadracci Pavilion, an addition to Milwaukee's Art Museum that opened in late 2001. Designed by Spanish starchitect Santiago Calatrava, it's a swooshy, swoopy, white-on-glass-on-steel, '30s-sci-fi-meets-contempo-cruise-liner thing -- half a clamshell, half a suspension bridge -- featuring a couple of giant seagull-like wings that open and close, and an eye-popping great hall with floor-to-ceiling windows. (I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall when Calatrava was pitching his ideas to the museum's trustees. What a salesman he must be.) Chicago magazine hasn't put Wilk's piece online, so I'll summarize some of it. On the plus side: Lots of approving national press. Big attendance figures for the first shows it has housed. The restaurant and gift shop are prospering. A feeling of civic accomplishment. The city has a striking new landmark on its skyline. And a chic factor that's undeniable: Porsche and Lexus have both shot car ads in the Pavilion's parking garage. On the not-so-plus side: The project, initially expected to cost around $50 million, wound up costing more than $120 million. Fundraising went well but still came up $20 million short where the building itself is concerned ... and another $5 million short where the endowment is concerned ... and the Pavilion turns out to be a lot more expensive to operate than was expected, and ... Well, depending on how you look at it, the Museum, in Wilk's words, "is arguably close to $50 million short of where it ought to be." There's also the matter of staff morale: Wilk learned that during the building's construction the Museum lost four of its six curators, and that within months of the building's opening the Museum's Director and his main sidekick also left. Has it been worth the effort? Me, I haven't visited and so reserve judgment. Porsche and Lexus would probably say yes. I'm enjoying my copy of Chicago magazine, by the way, which has an especially lively and well-edited front of the book. Their website is here. Mary Ann Sullivan took the photo above, and has put up five pages' worth of images of the Quadracci Pavilion here. Here's an enthusiastic user's review of the Quadracci from Epinions. The Milwaukee Art Museum's website is here -- at the bottom of the page you can take a photo tour of the Quadracci. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Pic of the Day -- Romare Bearden
Friedrich -- Reading the NYTimes' arts section over lunch. Step one: groaning through another piece of Herbert Muschamp's high-falutin' nonsense-poetry masquerading as architecture criticism. I used to enjoy hating his writing more than I do now -- the spectacle of his self-exhilarated grandstanding used to make me giggle uncontrollably. (The Wife remembers these fits.) These days, I'm a little weary of his preening. But -- hats off to him -- he still does manage to generate more gasp-inducing sentences than any other arts writer I'm aware of. My favorite from this morning's column (about an Ellsworth Kelly proposal for the WTC site): "But New Yorkers have developed an extraordinarily supple attitude toward reality in the past two years." What's this man on? Step two: enjoying this informative Felicia Lee piece about Romare Bearden (here), who's being given a solo retrospective at the National Gallery. Are you a Bearden fan? I am. He lived from 1911 to 1988; studied for a while under George Grosz; was part of the Ralph Ellison/Albert Murray set of African-American intellectuals and writers, to my mind one of the most wonderful and admirable of all American art-intellectual movements; and has been an inspiration to such relative youngsters as Wynton Marsalis and August Wilson. When it's weak, his work -- which fuses African-American folk qualities with early-modernist techniques -- can get a little Sunday supplement-ish and family-of-man-ish. But at its strongest, I find it as formally interesting as Braque's, and as magical and sweet as the best Chagall. Here's an example, a 1969 collage on board entitled "Black Manhattan." Clicking on the thumbnail below will bring up a larger version of the picture. There's no shortage of Bearden online to be enjoyed. Here's the site of the National Gallery's show. Here's the website of the Romare Bearden Foundation. Here's Artcyclopedia's page. And now back to work ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Policy Break--Securities Fraud and Its Enablers
Michael: So, did you hear about Ben Glisan Jr., the ex-Enron executive who—after diligently helping to defraud investors of billions of dollars—has admitted to securities fraud and was sentenced to all of five years in prison? Do you ever wonder what is going on in government prosecutor’s heads when they cook up deals like this? I sure do. According to the New York Times story, which you can read here, the five year sentence is …fairly long…compared with those given in many white-collar convictions that result from pleas. Now, see, if I was a prosecutor that would make me inclined to try the son of a bitch so we could throw him away for lots longer. But I guess I must lack the special prosecutorial point of view or something. Because if I would have contemplated doing a deal with Mr. Glisan, I would surely have insisted that he co-operate with the investigation in order to cut a deal, and the real prosecutors didn’t feel that way: “We have witnesses, and Mr. Glisan is not currently one of them,” said Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s Enron task force. “He was never cooperating, and we never expected him to cooperate.” Huh? Did I get that right? This guy is shaving all sorts of time off his sentence but couldn’t be bothered to cooperate? What the hell is going on here? Apparently, what’s going on here is a need to look busy on the part of prosecutors who must be taking a lot of bathroom breaks and long lunch hours on the taxpayer’s dime: “It was critically important for the government to show some tangible progress, and that is what this plea provided them,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at McCarter & English in Newark. “The opportunity of the government to show an Enron executive leaving the courtroom and heading directly to jail was a significant step for the government in demonstrating to the public that they are moving the case forward.” If letting guys like Glisan off easy is the government’s idea of “moving the case forward,” my suggestion is that we just disband the Enron task force before we waste any more millions on it. This is some kind of bizarre public relations act, not law enforcement. The core of the problem here, as the (non-) prosecutions of management-insiders at Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and companies too numerous to mention demonstrates, lies in the ludicrously stringent definitions of securities’ fraud enshrined in our nation’s laws. To get a guilty conviction on a management-insider, you have to prove misrepresentation of facts to the public, that the facts were material, that the defendant was aware that he was misrepresenting, that he was standing on his left leg while singing the Star Spangled Banner while performing the misrepresentation, and…(most importantly) that the defendant knew in his heart that what he was doing was wrong! Enough is enough, guys; public markets are a chump’s game if... posted by Friedrich at September 11, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

True Art School Tales
Friedrich -- With this posting, we're pleased to kick off a new feature, True Art School Tales, an irregular, ongoing illustrated diary about life as an art-school student by John Leavitt, who's currently studying at Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology. John's own website -- where he shows off his witty and elegant art, as well as his prowess as a designer and cartoonist -- is here. If you click on the thumbnails of the drawings John has included in his diary, you'll get to enjoy them at a more sensible size. True Art School Tales Yesterday was my first day back at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I'm a student in my sophomore year. Nothing had changed, least of all the setting -- the FIT Buildings are windowless gray boxes, featureless and dumb. (Of course, the same could be said about the students.) The insides are no better -- nothing but high-school-yellow linoleum and concrete walls. How a school supposedly devoted to beauty could have one the most famously ugly buildings in NYC, I'll never know. It's telling that it was built with city money during the '70s, when the city had no money to pass out. Architecture like this makes people forget that they live in a democracy. FIT doesn't resemble a college. Rather, it looks like the bank I once worked at. One summer I did data entry for Fleet Bank. It was an old building, built in the heat of the Cold War, and was designed to protect the records and money against a nuclear attack. The entry labs were 5 stories under the earth, accessible only through long, over-lit corridors and interlocking rooms with low ceilings. During the two weeks I was there, I wondered, what good are the records with everyone blasted to radioactive dust? Buildings like this dull the senses, not something you'd want an art school to do. *** The day was spent in lines trying to change my forced schedule. Every semester you're given a block of required courses that is set in stone, and some limited Liberal Art electives -- apparently art students can't be trusted to choose their own classes. Also, they keep the identity of the teacher hidden until the first day of class. Which means that unlike at other schools, you can't pick your teachers. I've been told, with a straight face, that this is a good policy because otherwise "everyone would want the good teachers." In any case, I got most of the changes I wanted made, though I wasn't able to remove one terrible teacher from my list, the ancient Professor R--. In every college teachers get a reputation, and some come to be regarded as blockages in the collegiate colon. There are teachers who fall asleep, make lecherous advances on models. Or, in the case of Prof. R--, prattle on about tedious political matters and social consciousness without teaching a goddamned thing. I'm not paying for her soapbox. Or rather, yes: apparently I am.... posted by Michael at September 10, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friedrich -- * The imaginative and entertaining economist Tyler Cowen has caught the blogging bug bad. Good for him, and better for us. Along with co-conspirator Alex Tabarrok, he's now blogging at Marginal Revolution, here. Both Cowen and Tabarrok have hit the ground running, and Marginal Revolution is instantly one of my favorite blogs. * Tom Ehrenfeld runs a blog about entrepreneurship, but he's begun including some observations and comments about culture too. He offers the most original movie list I've seen in a while -- nominees for the half-a-dozen best movies to inspire entrepreneurs here. Happy time-clock-puncher that I am, I've got nothing to contribute myself, but I'm eager to see the candidates more enterprising people come up with. You'll have to forgive much too kind a mention of 2Blowhards at the top of the piece. And here's a Tom posting about what entrepreneurs can learn from Monty Python. * You probably noticed that Leni Riefenstahl has died at 101. Here's a good obit by the Guardian's Richard Falcon. Here are some thoughts of my own that I jotted down last year on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Leni's own website is here. * Cultureblogging trailblazer (and much else) Sasha Castel has moved her blog to a new address, here. Adjust bookmarks, permalinks, etc., and then go enjoy Sasha's lively brain and writing. * David Sucher has an amazing gift for putting all you really need to know about cities and architecture into short, sweet and easy postings. He does it again here. My favorite sentence: "It is not genius which creates cities worthy of humanity but adherence to time-tested rules." * What David is to the discussion about cities and architecture, Mike Snider is to the conversation about poetry. For an example, check out this posting here. Fave sentence: "The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, as a whole, are interested in form only as form, as they are interested in language as an abstract system of references rather than as a way human beings form community." Hard to imagine making the evo-bio/neuroscience (and anti-modernist) case for art more concisely. * Terry Teachout explains here why there hasn't yet been a DVD of Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game." Are there 2Blowhards visitors who haven't watched "Rules of the Game"? Tut tut. * My thoughts about prison and imprisonment? Thanks for asking. Roughly: "We throw criminals in jail primarily to protect the rest of us, and secondly to punish them. Rehabilitation? If it happens, it happens, but it's unlikely, and hardly worth getting hung up about." I didn't realize that holding such opinions meant that I was a fascist until I moved to the Manhattan arts-and-media world, where the conventional wisdom is that no one's really responsible for his/her actions, especially criminals, and that prison ought to be a cross between a day-care center and a seven-step program. So I always find it a relief to read something like this Thomas Sowell column here. * I don't follow film criticism the... posted by Michael at September 10, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Pic of the Day
Michael: Choosing solely among the products of HFOP (i.e., High-Falutin' Oil Painting), what would you choose as your favorite female nude? Obviously this is an impossible question, but I would have to nominate the following as among my very most favorites along this line. J. Ingres, Woman Bathing, 1807 I think this beauty by Ingres gets the nod from me because of (1) the tenderness--I can think of no better word--of the depiction, and (2) the combination of her body language and her facial expression (she's hunched over in a bit of a defensive crouch, but she doesn't seem to be in distress; it's more as if she is shielding something of value--her physical beauty--that should be, deserves to be protected.) Enjoy. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Michael--Per your suggestion in the comments, I will post all nominated paintings in another post. Everybody else--Keep those cards and letters coming! See your favorite enshrined at 2blowhards!... posted by Friedrich at September 9, 2003 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, September 8, 2003

Moviegoing: "Touchez Pas Au Grisbi"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- As you know, I'm no longer the repertory-house-haunting film-history buff I once was. Hey, it occurs to me that a lovely thing about film history (by comparison to, say, music history or art history) is that it's finite; you can get it and then move on. I still do dip my toes in those waters from time to time, though. Last night, the Wife and I headed over to the Film Forum to catch up with the film-history crowd's latest find, Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, an early-'50s French gangster picture starring Jean Gabin. (The title means "don't touch the loot.") Froggy-film bingo, at least for me -- it's a lovely picture, well worth the trouble of seeking out. (The Wife wasn't crazy about it; more about her reaction later.) Part of what I found fascinating about the film is that you can feel the "Quai des Brumes" poetic realism of the '30s in it, but you can also feel a couple of other things as well -- '50s existentialism of a stark sort, and the first stirrings of the New Wave as well. Interesting to learn that Truffaut loved Becker's movies; Becker was one of the few older French directors who got a pass from the Cahiers crowd. The film has an interesting and somewhat unstable mixture of tones: dry and abstract at times, emotional and poetic at others. I loved it, but there were people in the audience who seemed to want the film to settle on one tone or another. In this way as well as others, the film kept making me think of Renoir; if Renoir had made a '50s gangster picture, it might have come out a little like this. (Remember how some people have trouble with the way Renoir mixes tones? Becker, by the way, was a buddy of Renoir's.) Another distinctive thing about the movie is how French it is. When it comes to French gangster movies, it occurs to me that we're used to what's really a kind of Franco-American admixture -- American gangster themes and iconography filtered back through an intellectual/poetic French sensibility. "Touchez Pas" has nothing of that. It's based entirely in the French crime-fiction tradition; it's as pungent and foreign-seeming as Simenon's novels are. I watched the movie thinking, Wow, crime fiction means something entirely different to the French -- who by and large take it as a cross between poetry and philosophy -- than it generally means to us. It's a distanced and formal "gangster exercise," in other words; and it's a "gangster parable" too -- a statement about life, or Life. The hero isn't a psychopathic striver in the American, Scarface tradition; he's a weary but still stylish bourgeois of the underworld who takes things, whenever possible, at his own pace. His suits, his friends, his pate, and his investments are all at least as important to him as his work, or even his impressive stable of young lovelies. He... posted by Michael at September 8, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Can We Just Take a Do-Over?
Michael: As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in French history and trying to link it up with the rise and development of Modern Art. All of my reading convinces me that the relationships between French social, economic, political and religious history on the one hand and French art history on the other are too clear cut to ignore. (I intend to give a very specific, concrete example of these correspondences in an upcoming posting.) The more I read, the more I am convinced that the dogma fed to us in our Lousy Ivy University in the 1970s (i.e., the notion that Modern Art developed as the result of a purely internal dialogue held within the arts community, chiefly about formal issues like color and “flatness”) is hogwash. The first fifty or so years of Modern Art, from Courbet to the death of Cezanne, was an entirely French affair, very local in character, very idiomatic. What we think of as Modern Art during this period was one subset of French art that reflected French concerns and was created for French consumption. The formal strategies that were adopted, as well as altered, played with, and tossed on the trash heap, don’t derive from each other via some form of immaculate conception, but were glommed on to by artists attempting to find a way of engaging the concerns (and often, but not always, the francs) of the French art-buying public. This is not to denigrate the incredible creativity involved, nor to criticize the French for the particular set of social, religious, economic, military and political problems they had to confront. I’m simply trying to point out that while the French had a particular clutch of problems to deal with, the rest of humanity had its own set of social, economic, political and religious issues, which were by no means identical to those of the French. Despite this not very controversial truth, one of the main tenets of the standard, formalist-oriented story of Modern Art (promoted by, say, the Museum of Modern Art throughout most of its existence) is the notion that the experience of Modernity was more or less the same everywhere. (Or at least, it was implied—if not explicitly stated—that the experience of Modernity was, or sooner-or-later would be, identical among urban elites in the Western World). Consequently there was a strong tendency to ignore, bulldoze and generally denigrate local differences and traditions. Of course, anyone could play in the game of Modernism as long as they paid homage to a set of issues that were, at root, French in origin. To get good at Modernism, one had to first soak up sufficient French-ness to become able to beat the French to the next space on the game board. Picasso perfectly illustrates what was required from a successful non-French player of the Modern French Art Game. For a generation of American artists born early in the 20th century, their opportunity came when the Surrealists fled to New York... posted by Friedrich at September 8, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments