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  1. Gina on Gal vs. Guy Groupies
  2. Criticism and Me
  3. True Art School Tales
  4. Sexy Words
  5. Down on Digital
  6. Digital Crack
  7. Evo-Bio of Music
  8. Sculpture and the Inner Child
  9. Lesy on Rich Kids, Publishing
  10. Exercise Web Humor

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Saturday, September 20, 2003

Gina on Gal vs. Guy Groupies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- The actress Gina Gershon is a looker and a hot number. And, because she's starred in such films as "Showgirls" and "Bound," she has as many female as male fans. (She's also performed a few times as a musician.) Maxim magazine asked her to describe the difference between female and male groupies. Here's her response: The difference is that female fans are a lot more intense. They're really forthcoming in what they want from you and what they want to give you. Guys are like, "Hey, what's up? Liked your flick. Can I take a picture?" Women are like ... they tell you everything -- what they want to do for you, what they think about you, their sex lives, everything. So I can see how that would be a trip for male rock stars. Because when I did that show in New York, the female fans were -- I can't even describe it -- they were out of control. Gals! Guys! Gina! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments

Friday, September 19, 2003

Criticism and Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- A visitor writes to ask why I don't use this blog to do more criticism and reviewing. Well, she hints that she's interested. Kinda. In any case, I've decided to use her very sweet note as a taking-off point. Major Self-Absorption Alert here; coming up are ruminations even the long-suffering Wife would have a hard time faking an interest in. Anyway. One very good reason I don't use the blog to do criticism or write reviews is simple: the world doesn't need more critics or reviewers. What's the point in adding another opinion to a world already awash in them? I do know, by the way, that one reads critics and reviewers for other reasons too -- for their ideas and observations, their points of view, their personalities, their writing chops. But my main reason is this: because I see writing reviews and doing criticism as a profession. I'd be happy to write reviews or criticism if someone were paying me enough money to make it worth my while. But no one's offering. Between you and me, I've managed to get myself paid a few times for doing reviews and criticism. I didn't luvluvluv the experience, as some people seem to: lots of work and little money, and the thrill of seeing my opinions in print wasn't overwhelming. So I was never driven to pursue a professional post as a reviewer. And, yes, it's a field that, in some ways, is like many others: not untainted by politics, networking, positioning, egos, and even a little backstabbing. Back in more naive days, I confess that I made the mistake of writing a fair number of essays and reviews "on spec" (ie., writing what I felt like, unsolicited) and sending the results around in hopes of getting them published. Gosh, I was just so good and smart that they'd have to publish me! I think one of those pieces managed to find its way into print. I worked on it for weeks, got paid 50 dollars, and felt lucky to get looked at by a few relatives. I was writing criticism as though it were poetry, and I wound up getting read that way. The rest of my spec pieces, on which I worked just as hard, still sit in a file-cabinet drawer. Never again. But why, why am I dwelling on the money? What about the art of it? Where's the love? Well, I'm perfectly happy with the idea that criticism and reviewing are literary forms in their own right, if rather specialized ones. I enjoy reading critics and reviewers, and admire the good ones. I once asked the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami for his thoughts about critics and reviewers, and he said something I found interesting. First he took a very long Haruki-pause, then he said something like (his English was terrible): "Well, I think they're writing their own kind of literature, as I'm writing mine. The difference is that where I mostly use... posted by Michael at September 19, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

True Art School Tales
A new installment in John Leavitt's ongoing True Art School Tales, an irregular, illustrated diary about life as an art-school student. John's currently studying at Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology. His 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 most of them at a more sensible size. *** True Art School Tales Why am I at this art school? Well, the main reason is because I'm poor -- and, being a state institution, FIT costs almost nothing. After a disastrous first year, feeling discouraged by the quality of the education I was getting, I looked into other art schools. What my explorations taught me was that, despite its drawbacks, FIT is one of the better technically-oriented schools in the NYC area. I visited the student shows at Parsons, Pratt, Studio School, Cooper and SVA. Only SVA (which is outside my price range) and FIT had pieces that demonstrated that their students had been taught some skills. *** Why do I stay? Life-drawing classes. I'm one of those traditionalists who thinks that the essence of an arts education is draftsmanship. It teaches technique and artistry both. It requires keen observation, skill, and grace, and putting them all too work in a short time. Life-drawing artistry requires you to leave out things, to make choices. One of those things that are generally known is that drawing's the thing that attracts many people to art in the first place. How many kids say "I love watercolors!" Very few. How many say "I love to draw"? Quite a number. *** At FIT, I have always been able to find some life-drawing classes to work in. What I love about life drawing is the immediacy. I'm a fidgety person, so I'm terrible at the "patience" disciplines of oil-painting and sculpture. I also like the economy of means drawing requires. All I need is my pad and pencil, maybe a pen and some charcoal. Thus equipped, I am my own walking art studio, unencumbered and free. Drawings from life also turns out to be the one thing everyone asks to see when they want to evaluate your skill level. They're the one thing everything agrees should be required of an art school. *** One of the un-PC secrets of life drawing classes, and one that professors will barely acknowledge, is this: Students tend to make better drawings when they're drawing beautiful models. Pretty models are a pleasure to draw, a fact that sticks in the craw of The Politically-Minded teachers, the ones who insist on having us draw such themes as Despair, or The Immigrant's Plight, or The Struggle Of Woman. There really are such professors. I had one who kept assigning socially-redeeming work and couldn't understand why the students weren't eager to avail themselves of her offer to raise... posted by Michael at September 19, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sexy Words
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I'm on my way to work this morning, listening (as always) to an audiobook, my mind half on its contents and half on the day to come. But some small mental seed is starting to push its way up and through ... There's storminess ... There's dark blue and black ... There's a slim, black-haired woman wearing slim black leather ... Yep, it seems like ads for the movie "Underworld" are everywhere -- on buses, billboards, phone booths and more. Well, I harumph to myself, that's certainly another movie I'll be doing my best to skip. But that tight leather thing she's wearing ... And then (having long ago lost track of what the lecturer on my audiobook was talking about) I wake up to what my mind's really been gnawing on: the word catsuit. What a sexy word "catsuit" is: slangy, defiant, confident, slinky-snakey. Feline, too, of course, but not in that annoying way real cats are feline. And redolent of Emma Peel and Diana Rigg, and Michelle Pfeiffer too, of course -- can't beat that. And I start musing about sexy words more generally, and how interesting it is that non-vulgar words can even be sexy. I don't have much of a list of sexy nonvulgar words going yet, and I'm hoping you (and any and all visitors, of course) can pitch in here. (Sexy vulgar words we'll return to in another posting.) I guess slinky is pretty sexy, although you've got to get past the Slinky toy. Soigne. Cognac. Leather. Gotta admit that I find papaya and mango sexy, if in a tiki-house way. Wait, I find tiki-house pretty sexy too. I know there'll be a big gray zone here -- is breast vulgar or non-vulgar, for instance? Let alone nipple? And hey, does anyone else find the word vulva trance-inducingly sexy? I sure do. I think they're all gray-zonish words myself. Our usual four-letter favorites? Fine and pungent, but definitely vulgar. So, sexy non-vulgar word nominees, please. Hmm ... Ribcage? ... Tight? ... Assignation? ... Diaphanous? ... Sarong? ... Any word whatsoever, so long as it's spoken by Barry White or Kathleen Turner? ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2003 | perma-link | (30) comments

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Down on Digital
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- On the oft-returned-to topic of digital progress and the movies, I'm going to play Mr. Doom and Gloom today. Why? Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Have you caught the film? A sort-of homage to spaghetti Westerns by the talented Robert ("El Mariachi," "Spy Kids") Rodriguez. He shot the picture digitally (HDTV, I think), The Wife and I saw it projected digitally, and I wound up about as depressed as I've been recently at a movie. To be frank, I was in a grumpy mood by the time the movie began. Lordy, the cineplex experience. Young people playing with cellphones and gobbling armsful of food. Crowded, too: although we usually sit near the back of the theater, we wound up near the front this time, in the third row. And then 15 or 20 minutes of pre-feature ads, pop music, popcorn-crunching, and previews ... I felt like a punchcard that was being hustled through some Evil Mega-Corporation's most sadistic computer. "Shoot me now," I said to the Wife. "Put me out of my misery." Well, you try to make the best of things, even cineplex things. So I vowed to find the evening interesting if not enjoyable. It quickly became clear that the movie itself was a loud, hyperactive mess, so I turned my attention instead to inspecting the imagery -- computer-made-and-displayed -- from up close. That was what really depressed me. I don't want to belabor this posting (not too much, anyway), and I know perfectly well that my opinion about these things matters not one iota. I'm also fairly peppy generally about the direction tech developments seem to be taking movies. But benefits seldom come without costs, and why not dwell on them from time to time? Besides, what's the point of being an arts fan if you can't complain that everything's going to hell in a handbasket? That's part of the fun. So, forthwith, a few negative and pissy musings and observations on digital movies. Grrrrrrrrrr. * "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" isn't a movie, at least not in the traditional sense. It's a different thing altogether -- an electronic media thing -- and it speaks an altogether different language. * I do know that the sensible thing here is to chirp, "It is too a movie! And not only that, it's an example of what movies are becoming! So get with it, man!" And if I were much younger, that's probably the stance I'd take myself. But I'm not young any longer; in my personal mental cosmos, there are movies BD (Before Digital) and movies AD (After Digital). It's as simple as that, and as clear a distinction as the difference between photography BP (Before Photoshop) and photography AP (After Photoshop). And as far as I'm concerned, movies BD and movies AD are two different art forms. Deep dark truth be told, while I love the earlier medium I have almost no personal feelings whatsoever for the more recent... posted by Michael at September 18, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments

Digital Crack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Have you caught the lead article in the WSJournal's "Marketplace" section today? It isn't online, unfortunately. Geoffrey Fowler writes for the newspaper about recent developments in digital piracy. The newest DVD/CD burners -- which are (surprise surprise) much faster and smaller than they were just a few years ago -- have given rise to a new generation of music, software and video pirates. Getting started as a digital pirate used to take about a million bucks and some serious square footage. Today, capitalization and space demands have become so minimal that piracy has gone mom 'n' pop. An interesting wrinkle is that organized crime syndicates have discovered the advantages of the new equipment too. The movie business, in fact, fears the syndicates more than it does the mom 'n' pop burners. Why? To quote Fowler: "Trafficking in pirated DVD-Rs and DVDs is almost 100% more profitable than trafficking in heroin." I'm picturing furtive tough guys hanging out near urban schools, trying to get kids addicted to pirated movies ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Evo-Bio of Music
Michael: You’re a lot more musical than I, so maybe you remember this differently, but when I was first introduced to atonal music I was lectured on how it sounded bad only because people were so accustomed to the tonal competition. In other words, like everything else about human beings (at least in the 1970s), musical preferences for tonality were entirely socially constructed. Well, a story in the NY Times, “We Got Rythmn: The Mystery of Music and Evolution” suggests that this notion—like most strict social construction theories—appears to be wrong. Apparently there is a fair amount of evidence that the human preference for tonal music is innate—i.e., present at birth—and that it reflects the tuning of the human auditory system to the frequencies and harmonies of the human voice. As the article by Nicholas Wade (which you can read here) points out: All societies have music, all sing lullaby-like songs to their infants, and most produce tonal music, or music composed in subsets of the 12-tone chromatic scale, such as the diatonic or pentatonic scales. Some of the earliest known musical instruments, crane bone flutes from the Jiahu site in China, occupied from 7000 to 5700 B.C., produce a tonal scale. A Dr. Sandra Trehub at the University of Toronto has tested the musical preferences of infants as young as 2 months; they like consonance over dissonance and really like perfect fifths and fourths. Three Duke University neuroscientists (Dr. David A. Schwartz, Dr. Catherine Q. Howe and Dr. Dale Purves) think that the preference for tonality reflects the basic mechanics of human vocalization: Though every human voice, and maybe each utterance, is different, a certain commonality emerges when many different voices are analyzed. The human vocal tract shapes the vibrations of the vocal cords into a set of harmonics that are more intense at some frequencies than others relative to the fundamental note. The principal peaks of intensity occur at the fifth and the octave, with lesser peaks at other intervals that correspond to most of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, the Duke researchers say in an article published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience. Almost identical spectra were produced by speakers of English, Mandarin, Persian and Tamil. A related article, apparently not available online, “Perfect Pitch: A Gift of Note for Just a Few,” seems to suggest that the ability to distinguish sounds based on absolute pitch is a “savant” skill like those discussed in another posting here. In my previous posting the theory was advanced that savants are able to tap “lower-level” processing skills directly that in most people are suppressed by other brain functions. This notion seems supported by the fact that the human brain’s auditory cortex is set up with sets of neurons that respond to particular frequencies. As Josh McDermott of M.I.T. points out, everyone is hard wired to have perfect pitch: It should be relatively trivial [for the brain] to read out the absolute pitch of a stimulus. So it’s... posted by Friedrich at September 18, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sculpture and the Inner Child
Michael: My feelings about sculpture seem tied up with my inner child. The other day a little boy came over to our house with a pair of Hulk fists. (I don’t know what the official brand name is.) They are enormous foam-rubber fists, which are hollowed out inside so you can reach in and grab onto a handle embedded in the rubber. They also have a noise-making module in there, so you can slam the fists against things and get a “Hulk smash!” sound effect and a Hulk-like roar. The roar and the smashing noise were pretty entertaining, but I immediately fell in love with the fists as sculptures. I was just tickled by the way the Hulk fists show how a clenched hand turns from a sort of irregular two-dimensional shape into a series of semi-abstract masses defined by squared off planes. The Hulk fists also instantly reminded me of Michelangelo. Not that any of Old Mike’s sculpted figures have clenched fists (that I remember), but somehow the designer of the Hulk fists, by working on over-life-size scale, by giving the suggestion of great muscular power and by exaggerating the shapes into slightly abstracted masses has managed to work the same vein of ore as did the Tuscan Titan. I also think the exaggerated qualities of the Hulk fists and of Michelangelo's sculptures send my brain into a state of heightened perception that reminds me of early childhood; just being around Michelangelo's scuptures usually puts me into a kind of dreamstate. Michelangelo, Moses, 1515 If memory serves, you once compared the experience of looking at Michelangelo sculpture to being a small child looking (with awe) at the size and muscularity of adults. That line pretty well sums up the experience, for me at least, of playing with the Hulk fists. It also seems integral to the experience of looking at most sculpture I really love. Go figure. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 18, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Lesy on Rich Kids, Publishing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Remember being amazed by how "entitled" yet how touchy so many kids at our Lousy Ivy University seemed to feel? And remember the indignant blogosphere fuss I kicked up when I dared to suggest that publishing a book wasn't all champagne, caviar, and horselaughs with good friends? Michael ("Wisconsin Death Trip") Lesy, interviewed by Robert Birnbaum here, touches entertainingly on both topics. Er, that's privileged kids and how rotten publishing is, nothing to do with me. Lesy teaches writing and journalism at Hampshire College. Robert Birnbaum: You scare 'em [your students]? Michael Lesy: Sure. At Hampshire College -- and this is probably true at a lot of schools like Hampshire -- these kids have been privileged. As a result, they have both very large and very frail egos. You and I both know that the world of publishing is brutal and shitty and unfair. The students think that all they have to do is really mean what they say and things will work out for them. That's not true. It's terrible and painful and sad. And it's shitty. So the students sit there, thinking that they can be writers -- and my job is to try to tell them that, in the end, it's like a bar room fight. It's who's left standing. They don't even suspect that. They think, of course, "I'll be left standing." It's so funny. They come with more experience than you would imagine kids in their twenties might have. But they are also very shy. So when you say to them, in a course, "I want you to go home or I want you to go to the neighboring town, and I want you to find something that really interests you ... The response is that they get very uneasy. It turns out that, in spite of all their vacations and their, shall we say, 'recreational experiences', they are very timid. Very shy. RB: Why do you think? ML: I don't know. Because they have had it their way. RB: Because they haven't had to reach out? ML: It's like you go to one school and go to another and camp is arranged for you and vacations are arranged for you. Your friends have interesting adventures and do naughty things. You think that's life. For whatever reason, they both imagine themselves to be more able than they often are and more experienced than they really are. But it's an interesting process of growing up. And that's what this work at this level of education enables some of them to do. Which is to grow up and to bear witness and to understand that all the shit that they read and listen to on NPR or in The New Yorker or in The Atlantic has taken tremendous effort and tremendous work to make it just a good read. They don't understand that. They think it's like salted nuts at a bar. Right? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 17, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Exercise Web Humor
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I do love the way email enables people to forward jokes around. Here's a set I found funny, emailed to The Wife from her personal trainer. Jokes about exercising! We need more such. * It is well documented that for every minute that you exercise, you add one minute to your life. This enables you at 85 years old to spend an additional 5 months in a nursing home at $5000 per month. * My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. Now she's 97 years old and we don't know where the hell she is. * The only reason I would take up exercising is so that I could hear heavy breathing again. * I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven't lost a pound. Apparently you have to go there. * I have to exercise early in the morning before my brain figures out what I'm doing. * I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. * I have flabby thighs, but fortunately my stomach covers them. * The advantage of exercising every day is that you die healthier. * If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country. * I don't exercise because it makes the ice jump right out of my glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 17, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- * Thanks to Laurence Aurbach for pointing out this superb New Urbanist manifesto by New-Urb ayatollah Andres Duany in Planetizen here. Duany spells out 41 principles he wants to see architecture base itself on; tweak a word or two here and there, and I'd be happy to see all the arts based on them. Laurence is an interesting guy himself, and about as New-Urb as a person can be. He works as an assistant editor at the New-Urb publication The Town Paper (which I recommend, and which can be read here), and although he doesn't live in a New-Urb town, he does work in one, Kentlands. He has this to say about Duany's manifesto: Architects of all stripes and persuasions seem to find these 41 principles to be valid, worthwhile and more-or-less uncontroversial. It is boggling that so many designers can agree to this list, and yet they produce such different works that lead to such heated disagreement about style. Those few that might disagree with Duany's principles (Eisenman, Muschamp, Koolhaas, etc.) would, I suspect, believe that a response to Duany is beneath their dignity. * And thanks to Mike Snider (whose own blog is here) for pointing out this brilliant essay by Paul Lake here. Essential reading for art-lovers who are fed up with the played-out modernist/po-mo thing, and who are curious about what's likely to take its place. Hint: form, tradition, patterns, neuroscience, evo-bio ... Dis the Blowhards all you will, but don't say we didn't give you fair warning. * Visitors who enjoy musing about the French may enjoy this Atlantic Online q&a with the novelist Diane ("Le Divorce") Johnson here. * Here's a transcript of a first-rate Booknotes interview with the Princeton historian Robert Darnton. I'm a big Darnton fan. He's an 18th-century buff who's fascinated by the French and the Enlightenment, he's got a searching and industrious mind, and he writes elegantly and entertainingly for the general audience. If you haven't given his work a try, my tip is to start with The Great Cat Massacre, buyable here. In this interview, he makes a characteristically Darntonian point: that, until modern dentistry, most people lived with constant jaw and tooth pain. * The economist Tyler Cowen (who co-blogs at Marginal Revolution, here, with Alex Tabarrok) is interviewed by Nick Gillespie for Reason magazine online here. The Marginal Revolution duo are really rockin' out, by the way -- it's one of the liveliest blogs around. And, hey, Cowen provides a link to this recent interview here with Milton Friedman. * Gerald Vanderleun (whose blog is here) linked to this Washington Post piece here by his wife Sheryl. It seems that when Gerald gets an itch, there's nothing that's going to make him stop scratching. And he bought this digital camera, see, and ... Well, suffice it to say that many wives and husbands alike will recognize themselves in Sheryl's hilarious piece. Oops, did I make all this sound too R-rated? Well,... posted by Michael at September 17, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Life's Cruel Ironies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Given the we-always-smarten-up-about-it-too-late nature of life, as well as the way the cruelties and ironies keep on accumulating with the passing years, it seems to me that "Life's Cruel Ironies" could become a regular feature here at 2Blowhards. On the other hand, I often find that there's no better way to ensure that something won't happen than to resolve that it will. Hey, wait: that's another one of Life's Cruel Ironies. So who knows, eh? * Swimming. There's no physical-exercise/sports activity that leaves me feeling as loose and happy. But: I've got no feel for the water, and so will never be a better-than-OK swimmer. Is it really too much to ask that desire, pleasure, opportunity, luck and talent work in coordination? OK, I guess it is. * History. Hey, I've finally gotten interested in the subject. But: pushin' 50, I've pretty much lost the ability to retain new facts. * Computers. Great tools that allow me to do creative things more easily than ever before. But: by enabling bosses to streamline procedures and thus get more control over their projects, computers have played a big role in reducing my creative input (such as it ever was) at work. Further irony: I've discovered that, on the job at least, I prefer being a drone. * Blogging 1. Easy, convenient publishing that's tons more fun (as well as much more intellectually, personally and emotionally rewarding) than any professional writing I ever did. But: no way to get paid for it. Further irony: I suspect that my, ahem, creativity may actually be stimulated by the hopelessly-impractical, hobby-esque quality of blogging. * Blogging 2. The "postings" convention makes writing projects seem finite and manageable; it's ideally suited to the kind of grab-a-moment-here-and-a-moment-there life I lead. But: I'm an associative writer who's more drawn to the leisurely weaving-together of ideas and observations than to the making of short and punchy statements. Result: the creation of 'way too many long (and no doubt unread) postings. Notes to self: renew determination to keep postings shorter. And remember that spacey associations can build up between and over postings as well as within them. Interested to learn which of Life's Cruel Ironies have been rattling around the FvB noggin recently. Visitors are encouraged to join in too, of course -- if we can't compare rueful notes about Life's Cruel Ironies, what the heck are we doing hanging out together? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 17, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

And The Nominees Are...
Michael: A week ago I asked you (and our readers) to nominate favorite female nudes, choosing among the products of HFOP (i.e., High-Falutin’ Oil Painting). I also promised to put up the suggested artworks. Well, here goes. They are listed, as best I can tell, in date order--which is my way of saying I don’t have date information for all of them. This presentation order just happens to put your nomination first. (As we know, Blowhards have their privileges.) Correggio, Jupiter and Io, 1531-2; Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538 Rembrandt, Bathseba At Her Bath, 1654; J.A.D. Ingres, Valpincon Bather, 1808 E. Manet, Olympia, 1863; G. Courbet, Woman with a Parrot, 1866 E. Degas, Woman Combing Her Hair, 1887-90; J. S. Sargent, Egyptian Girl (Study from Life), 1891 L. Corinth, Female Nude Lying Down, 1899; G. Klimt, Goldfische, 1901-2 G. Klimt, Danae, 1907-8; A. Zorn, Helga, 1917 A. Modigliani, Standing Nude Elvira, 1918; T. Lempicka, Andromede, 1929 L. Laserstein, Traute Washing, c. 1930; T. Wesselman, Great American Nude, #57, 1964 G. Richter, Ema (Nude on a Staircase), 1966; Mahgameh Parvaneh, Untitled(?), 2003. As the careful reader will no doubt be aware, we've got a few ringers in there--one pastel and one photograph. But what the heck, I can bend the rules if I want to. Votes for one of the above, or nominations for further favorite female nudes--and let's try to stick to oil paintings in the future, okay?--should be registered via comments. Let the contest begin! Cheers, Friedrich P.S. If anyone can contribute the missing information for any of the above images, I will be grateful. P.P.S. Nominations for male nudes will be accepted for next week's contest.... posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- My theme this time: Some Boss Chick Blogs. * Glad to see that Polly Frost is blogging once again, here. Polly's better than any writer I know of at experiencing art (and discussing it) both from the point of view of the audience and the point of view of the artist. Glad to see too that her writing life's at a lively stage, what with readings of her work happening soon in both Pasadena and Worcester, Mass. * After time away spent doing some blog-relocating and blog-redecorating, Alice Bachini is once again posting regularly. (Alice's blog now lives at a sensible new address, here.) Is there anyone who hasn't yet sampled Alice's writing? If so, get ready for a one-of-a-kind mixture of ranting, flirtatiousness, performance art and whimsy. * Martine, of Ni Vu Ni Connu, has also been doing some blog-redecorating, but is once again welcoming visitors here. Martine posts -- in French and English -- witty and festive verbal snapshots from Montreal. Classy new design, too. * The possessor of one of the quietest of blogging voices, S.Y. Affolee (here) also has one of blogdom's most thoughtful and observant minds. In her very subdued way, she shows off lots of energy and dazzle; she's another Boss Chick Blogger not to be missed. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sharp as a Tack
Michael: Is there some requirement that success in the fashion industry requires a certain, er, morally flexible attitude and, um, not being the sharpest tool in the shed? The Wall Street Journal of September 15 offers some insights into the attitudes of this industry in a story headlined: “Smokes Return to Runway.” It tells how the hip but undercapitalized design team As Four decided to take $20,000 to mount a runway show from an upstart cigarette company, Freedom Tobacco Inc. Freedom Tobacco is also providing financing for the fledgling designers, whose clothes are sold though Barney’s New York. In return, the designers will be co-branding a match dispenser promoting Freedom’s “Legal”--pronounced "luh-GAL"--brand of Columbian cigarettes and creating a reward program (“Legal Loot”) inviting consumers to trade in empty cigarette packs for As Four merchandise. This arrangement does not exactly seem to be a well-thought out political statement on the part of As Four. I mean, there’s no suggestion in the story that Team As Four thinks smoking cigarettes is a good thing that everyone should do, or even a bad thing that people should have the right to do to themselves. No, this looks more like strict opportunism. Team leader Angela Asfour explains: “We are financially unable to do it all by ourselves. We need money.” Mercenary motives don’t seem to register as an embarrassment with the members of Team As Four; Kai Kuehner offers the world this stunning piece of philosophical reasoning: “You have to be pretty open-minded and free with yourself to get into this business in the first place.” Open-minded and free—I’ll have to remember that line the next time someone accuses me of being piggish when I scarf the last bagel. Regrettably, Team As Four doesn’t appear to be an isolated instance among fashion designers in their somewhat un-cerebral approach to ethical questions: Australia-based designer Wayne Cooper, who got almost $40,000 for fashion shows from British American Tobacco PLC over the years, dropped the sponsor 18 months ago. “This got too hot for us,” Mr. Cooper says. “We looked like we were promoting smoking to young girls.” Thank goodness Mr. Cooper wasn’t actually promoting smoking to young girls, and could clarify his real role for us in this brilliantly insightful way. But this tale of avarice, irresponsibility and low-wattage brainpower hasn’t touched bottom yet. No, that’s left for Isaac Mizrahi, who feels it necessary to drag art into the muck with him: If a designer or any artist takes funding from tobacco companies, I admire them. Shouldn’t art be more important than policy? Gee, I don’t know, Isaac. I’m still trying to figure out what you think qualifies you to discuss art in the first place. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 16, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, September 15, 2003

Plot Summaries
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Are you as amazed as I am at the amount of space movie and book reviewers these days devote to plot summaries? It's common for more than half a review to be spent telling the movie or fiction-book's story. Who wants this amount of plot synopsis? I may be an extreme case, but I hate it when a work's story is given away; I want a work's surprises to be allowed to surprise me. So I just skip over the plot-summary part of reviews. Lately, this means that that when I read a review, I've been skipping 2/3 to 3/4 of its paragraphs. I read reviews when I do for a variety of reasons -- to enjoy the reviewer's mind and writing, for tips about what I might see or read, and in the hope of encountering an observation or idea or two. But certainly not for plot summary. I find that a one-sentence characterization of what a movie or a fiction book is suffices. Examples: It's a "lyrical, writing-school-ish collection of stories about upper-class family dysfunction in Connecticut." It's a "straight-faced teen horror movie with supernatural touches set in the cornfields." That's all I need -- then it's on, or so I hope, to the observations, insights and jokes. You'll notice that -- role model that I am -- I avoid summarizing plots almost completely in my own postings about movies and books. Here's a virtuoso example: many thousands of (apparently unread, sigh) words about a French gangster movie with nary a plot-point giveaway to be seen. Do I mind a description of a story's set-up? No, though I want it done discreetly -- set-ups have their own surprises, and I don't want them spoiled. And I do always appreciate an effort at taxonomy -- a shot at nailing down a work's general category and subcategory. But giving away the actual plot? ... I wonder if any studies have been done that chart how much space reviewers are spending on plot summaries. In any case, assuming that my impression is correct, how to explain the phenom? Do most reviewers have nothing of their own to say, and so fall back on recounting the plot in order to fill their space? Fair warning: old-fart moment coming on. Do you find, as I do, that young viewers and readers often seem to have nothing of their own to say these days? I find talking to most of them about what they've read and seen like talking to children about favorite TV shows: "Well, first there was this schoolbus. And then, this outerspace ship arrived! And the ugly neighbor? Well, he was really, I mean really, mean ..." But I'll stop now, as this is part of another posting, one I'll probably never get around to finishing about how the collapse of traditional education leaves kids defenseless, and with no background or perspective -- nothing to call on but childlike energy and a childlike sense of... posted by Michael at September 15, 2003 | perma-link | (21) comments

More Adventures in Vedanta-land
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- A busy day on the M.-Blowhard-goes-Indian front, what with a morning spent at a Bikram yoga class (here's a posting where I rave about Bikram yoga), followed by a visit to New York's very own Vedanta temple for a Sunday service (and here's a posting where I rave about Vedanta -- be sure to read the comments). My yoga skills, you won't be surprised to learn, are still beyond rudimentary. Well, why not be frank: I must be one of the most inflexible healthy people who has ever lived. Bending over and touching the floor? Not likely: how about bending over and touching my knees? I haven't been able to sit on the floor cross-legged since I was ten, at least not comfortably. I clutch my ankles like a drunk holding onto a bottle; the tensions in my knees, hips and lower back are so powerful that I consider it a triumph when I manage to prevent myself from snapping over backwards like the spring on a mousetrap. Now that I attend Bikram classes once or twice a week, I've grown perhaps an eensie bit more flexible, as well as more tolerant of the sauna-like heat. What I find strangest about spending an hour and a half exercising in a room whose thermostat is set to 100-105 degrees isn't the sweat or exhaustion, or the way even my muscles and tendons become semi-pliable. It's the way emotions run riot. You know the feelings you have while exercising? Ones you usually barely notice: discouragement, aversion, a brief high, distractedness, boredom, weariness, thoughts about mortality, etc. The Bikram heat amplifies them enormously. And what with yoga postures themselves being designed to cleanse your emotional as well as your physical being, the combo of the heat and the postures often leaves me feeling distraught and exhausted, the way I do after I've had a strong emotion. (My theory is that men -- at least men of my ilk -- are built to be able to withstand no more than one major emotion per week.) I feel absolutely wasted for an hour or two after class, like I'm coming down from an intense hallucination. Then the despair passes, and I feel great -- as well as creak- and ache-free -- for about 48 hours. Maybe this means that yoga really is cleansing me of negativity; or maybe it's all made-up, and simply a function of the heat and the effort. No matter which, I'm finding attending Bikram yoga classes more helpful psychically than the many years I invested in NYC-style psychotherapy. I also notice that I'm beginning to find what yoga people call "a little space" in the postures. Did you know, by the way, that "yoga" doesn't refer only to physical postures? Most Americans don't realize that yoga is a whole approach to life -- breathing, philosophy, meditation, eating, and conduct, as well as stretching and postures. (Each one is considered to be "a yoga"; the postures... posted by Michael at September 15, 2003 | perma-link | (14) comments

Slang Watch
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- "Comparing dick sizes." "Pissing contests." A new term for the ego wars so many men seem drawn to: "Antler-clacking." As in, "Oh, yeah, those two guys. They're in the conference room doing some antler-clacking." Followed by a weary roll of the eyeballs, of course. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 15, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Posting #1001
A Brief Dialogue Michael & Friedrich Friedrich: We are entering a new world-historical era. With my Picasso posting, we have completed 1000 such pieces. A new millennium awaits. Michael: 1000 posts? How’d we do it? We've only been blogging for a little over a year. I wonder how many words each of us has written? Friedrich: By my exact count, 11,347,298 for me and 11,347,297 for you. Michael: Oh, my aching typing fingers! Still, I've never as much fun with writing as I've had blogging. I'm amazed how easy it's been to leave behind the old-media game and move into the web-and-blog world. No regrets at all -- the new world agrees with my soul. How's it been for you? Friedrich: I've been too preoccupied with the zeitgeist to notice. The burden of history, you know. Michael: Speaking of history, I was leafing through some early postings of ours the other day. We both started off pugnacious and surly. Thank god that in those uglier times we barely had any visitors. We're much more relaxed and expansive these days. Friedrich: Relaxed? Expansive? These are decadent concepts. Michael: I guess we both had a lot of backed-up, festering stuff in us. But the pipes seem clear now. Blogging's lovely. I laugh to myself when i'm around real-writer friends these days who aren't into blogs or the web. Don't they know what they're missing? Friedrich: Probably not. Your real-writer friends who do not blog are, to speak bluntly, worthless and weak. Michael: How true. And they'll never know the pleasure of welcoming and enjoying such a classy crowd of visitors as we get. Friedrich: Yes, our readers are bold spirits indeed. Nonetheless, it would be false modesty to avoid doffing our hats to the crowd. (They doff.)... posted by Friedrich at September 14, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments