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

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Entrepreneur and arts buff
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Media flunky and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Vacation and the Arts
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm just back in the city after a week of vacation. I'd been planning on blogging while away. But after struggling with the place's rickety 56K AOL connection, I decided to abandon all online activities, email included, until I could get back to the trusty cablemodem. Hats off to all who manage to be active Web-presences via 56K modems. I wasn't man enough to put up with the frustration. In any case, I did my usual amount of reading, listening, and watching while on vacation. And while I may get around to opinionating about some of it, what I found myself musing about more was the way that being on vacation affects my experience of artsgoing generally. It's not as though I spend the working part of the year grimly plowing through encyclopedias and the vacation part of the year scarfing up the collected work of Jackie Collins. I'm as prone to read brainy stuff on vacation as I am during the workyear; one of the books I let myself luxuriate in during this recent holiday was Stephen Toulmin's brilliant intro-to-philosophy, "Knowing & Acting." Like a lot of Toulmin, it's both a little pokey to read and utterly mind-blowing in what it says. And I certainly treat myself to lots of inconsequential delights and goodies during the working part of the year. I'm nothing if not self-indulgent. Still, there's no question that I'm more whimsical in the ways I interact with the arts while on holiday than I am during the workyear. Tour a mansion? Can't imagine anything I'd rather do! Check out a Hollywood blockbuster? Well, why not? Though I've got only the remotest, anthropological interest in today's standard Hollywood fare, while on vacation I'm kinda curious about what the industry's been up to. But, generally, the impact being-on-vacation has on my artgoing activities seems to be less about the kind of thing I read or watch (or listen to or visit ...) than it is about the spirit I do this artsgoing in. I might visit a museum; I might read some poetry or philosophy; I might dig out a blues CD I haven't listened to in years. The artsgoing becomes more forgiving -- more a matter of helping myself to treats than it usually is. Which isn't a surprise, vacation being the break-from-the-usual-thing that it is. The entertainment industries know all about this, of course. The usual thing in book publishing, for example, is to treat summer as "summer-reading" season. The book publishers are selling a picture of careworn people with knotted-up brains being set free -- finally !! -- to sprawl on the beach and indulge in junk-food cultural pleasures: Nora Roberts, Tom Clancy, James Patterson. Do most people still view their summer weeks off as a time to indulge in junky reading pleasures? I know that booksellers still behave as though this is the case. But is it really? I wonder. Given how pervasive popular culture has become ...... posted by Michael at December 30, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Iraq in Pictures
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Here is a series of powerful images from the Iraq war. It's from the New York Times's 2004 Year in Pictures. And here is Stefan Beck's short and, to my mind, on-target assessment of the message the images convey and the priorities embedded in the choice of these particular images. The latter from The New Criterion's weblog, which this morning also contains Roger Kimball's response to the death of Susan Sontag. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at December 29, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, December 27, 2004

Francis Morrone writes: Dear Blowhards, How much museum going do you do these days? Museums are much on my mind these days. I recently visited the new Museum of Modern Art for the first time, and followed it up with visits to the Metropolitan and the Frick. I've also followed the dismaying news accounts of the sad fate of one of my favorite museums, the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. Let's start with MoMA. I used to love MoMA. Its collections chronicling the period of high modernism, 1880-1950, resided in intimate spaces in a building that was itself one of the signal modernist buildings of New York. It went up in 1939 to the designs of two unlikely architects. Philip Lippincott Goodwin, who was a MoMA trustee, the son of the banker James Junius Goodwin, a West 54th Street neighbor of John D. Rockefeller Jr., and an Ecole des Beaux-Arts-trained traditionalist architect, designed MoMA in collaboration with a younger architect, Edward Durell Stone, who had recently worked for Wallace K. Harrison and had helped to design Radio City Music Hall. MoMA's director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., had wanted to hire Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design MoMA. Barr was overruled by his board. And that's probably a good thing. Mies designed some great buildings. But his museums were terrible. Goodwin and Stone, on the other hand, created an improbably homey building in which two generations of New Yorkers educated themselves in modern art, watched movies (MoMA was one of the first museums, if not the first museum, to establish a department of film), and pondered what it meant when an Electrolux vacuum cleaner or a Chemex coffee maker shared space with canvases by Cézanne, Matisse, and Kandinsky. Philip Johnson, who was MoMA's first curator of architecture before he decided to go back to school to become an architect himself, designed MoMA's sculpture garden in the 1950s. This was long one of the most elegant outdoor spaces in the city. But in the 1980s, everything changed at MoMA. The museum staged a gargantuan Picasso retrospective, the largest ever. Every day huge crowds filed past the paintings, in such a procession that any proper appreciation of them was impossible. I found the experience wholly unpleasant. What was the point of such a show if one could not see, let alone savor, the works? So as to accommodate ever greater crowds, MoMA undertook a vast expansion under the architects Cesar Pelli & Associates. Now, I like Pelli. And I think he did what he could with the program. It's the program that sucked. MoMA lost all its intimacy, all its charm. I know it's a cliché to say it, but the place took on the character of a shopping mall. I stopped going. (I often wonder if my disaffection from modernism during this period of my life led to my absence from MoMA, or whether my absence from MoMA led to my reconsidering modernism.) One of the tenets of a conservative attitude... posted by Francis at December 27, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments