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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Donald Pittenger on Flair, Part 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue with the conclusion of Donald Pittenger's musings on flair in art and painting. Please click on the images that accompany Donald's words: most will pop up in a larger window. You'll be able to eyeball the art in much better detail. Part one of Donald's essay is here. *** Skill and Flair in Painting, Part Two by Donald Pittenger The matter of artistic "flair" Confession: I tossed the word "flair" into the original article on the spur of the moment. I gave it almost no thought, yet I used it because it struck me as being apt. What do I mean by flair in painting? Several things. Flair might be a dramatic sense created by the artist. In David Michaelis' book "N.C. Wyeth: A Biography" (Knopf, New York, 1998, pages 199-200), Wyeth's version of a scene in "Treasure Island" (where the pirate Israel Hands climbs a mast to attack Jim Hawkins and is killed by Jim) is contrasted with Walter Paget's earlier illustration of the scene. By N.C. Wyeth By Walter Paget [Editor's note: Since I couldn't find the specific images Donald refers to, I had to settle for the above comparison instead. Apologies to all.] Michaelis notes that Paget depicts Hands starting his fall after the shooting, with Hawkins higher up the mast, smoking pistols in hand. But Wyeth, he explains, heightened the drama by selecting a moment just before Hawkins fired. In the Paget version, the viewer quickly sees what happened whereas the Wyeth version leaves the viewer wondering if Hawkins will fire or whether the sword-wielding pirate will cut him down instead. Flair might be how paint is applied, the quality or nature of the brushstrokes. Consider Maxfield Parrish and John Singer Sargent. By Maxfield Parrish By John Singer Sargent Parrish's technique was essentially classical. His paintings were carefully planned, sometimes using Golden Mean geometry in their composition. Human figures were drawn from carefully-staged photographs of costumed models taken by Parrish himself. His usual model for many years was his ultimately shabbily-treated mistress Sue Lewin. Sue posed for both male and female characters. A byproduct of this is that many people in the paintings -- often in the same painting -- look somewhat similar, like Sue actually. For example, see his "The Lantern Bearers." Parrish: "The Lantern Bearers" Once the composition and photos were in hand, Parrish painted the grisaille (monochrome-tonal) layer. Then he would apply layer after layer of thinned-oil colored glazes until the work was completed. Parrish: "Dreaming/October" His unfinished version (there is also a completed work) of "Dreaming/October" contains both grisaille and completed areas, allowing us to glimpse how he constructed his paintings. There was no drama or flair in how the paint itself appeared in isolation from the context of the work as a whole. Sargent, like most other Post-Impressionist era painters, dispensed with grisaille and simply slapped on oil paint pretty much as it came out of the tube, mixing colors and perhaps... posted by Michael at May 19, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

ChicagoBoyz Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those brainy ChicagoBoyz have a lot of rowdily high-powered postings up. * Lexington Green watches some old war movies and marvels at how confident and exciting they were. Lexington also raises a good question: how to make a rousing historical war movie in today's ideological climate? He adds some more movie titles and links here. * Ginny reflects on the writers of the American Renaissance and wonders: Who will we recognize as today's great writers? * Shannon Love thinks some people just don't have a gut-level feeling for numbers. I'm happy to offer myself up as rock-solid proof of that. * James Rummell wonders what the EU is likely to do in response to the American media-entertainment behemoth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Incompleteness and Drug Development
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Was it circa 1990 when we were all informed that life as we knew was about to change? Designer drugs and genetic engineering were right on the horizon, and nothing would ever be the same again. What became of that excitement? Whatever happened to those miracle treatments? And were all those predictions just ... so much hooey? Derek Lowe writes a wonderful posting about the heady days. Key passage: Another drug [from the era] is an glycoprotein IIb/IIIa compound for cardiovascular disease from Genentech. This, I assume, is what eventually turned into sibrafiban. Unfortunately, that whole class of drugs didn't work out too well when compared head-to-head against aspirin, and that was pretty much that ... Those ... examples show you exactly why we're not awash in those wonderful 90's drugs right now. The most important parts of drug development are not yet amenable to a rational approach. We simply don't know enough. Hey, life isn't yet amenable to a rational approach. And I'm willing to bet we'll never know enough. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Facts of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts and Letters Daily points out a scary Michael Specter piece in The New Yorker. It's about gay men, methamphetamine ("crystal"), the Internet, and risky sex. Some facts from Specter's fascinating article: More than 10 percent of gay men in San Francisco and Los Angeles report having used methamphetamine in the last six months. In New York City, the rate of syphilis has increased by more than 400% in the last five years -- and "gay men account for virtually the entire rise." "Between 1998 and 2000, fifteen percent of the syphilis cases in Chicago could be attributed to gay men. Since 2001, that number has grown to sixty per cent." "Over the past several years, nearly every indicator of risky sexual activity has risen in the gay commmunity ... The number of men who say they use condoms regularly is below fifty per cent; after many years of decline, the mumber of new H.I.V. diagnoses among gay men increased every year between 2000 and 2003, while remaining stable in the rest of the population." The ability of people to connect online has played a big role in these developments, according to some researchers. One doctor did a study and concluded: "It turned out that crystal methamphetamine and the Internet were the perfect complements for high-risk sex. Crystal washes away your inhibitions. Makes you feel good and want sex. And the Internet is there to respond to your whims. It's fast, it's easy, and it's always available." Michael Specter writes: "The Internet has turned out to be a higher-risk environment than any bar or bathhouse -- men who meet online are more likely to use the drug, more likely to be infected with H.I.V., and less likely to use condoms." Interesting to learn about a few more of crystal meth's side effects: depression is common after long use. People on the drug often forget to drink enough water and become dangerously dehydrated. Meth can cause heart failure and and stroke. And "all users -- not just addicts -- suffer some long-term damage to the brain; memory loss and paranoia are common." Perhaps scariest of all -- as if death and derangement aren't disincentive enough -- "the chemicals used to make the drug are so toxic that for those who smoke it there is the danger that their teeth can crumble and fall out." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2005 | perma-link | (49) comments

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Fact of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to Bureau of Labor statistics, 5,559 Americans were killed by workplace injuries in 2003. 5,115 of these people were men. Adjusted for the ratio of women to men in the American labor force, men are more than ten times as likely to be fatally injured on the job as women are. (Source: The American Enterprise.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 17, 2005 | perma-link | (43) comments

Monday, May 16, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull, who emailed me a link to this Charles Isherwood essay theater essay for the New York Times. One passage in Isherwood's piece especially fascinated and irked me. He's constrasting two current plays, John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" and Martin McDonagh's "Pillowman": Although they share a dark view of human behavior that reflects our anxious age, the plays represent radically different outlooks on the purposes and priorities of theatrical writing. To put it casually, Mr. McDonagh wants merely to tell a story, while Mr. Shanley is interested in saying something. From which I conclude that, in Isherwood's value system, "saying something" automatically trumps "telling a story." Hey, a small hint to anyone who wants to impress the critics? Make sure your play or novel isn't just telling a story. Make sure it appears to be "saying something." I've grown amazed over the years by how condescending many high-toned people are towards storytelling -- storytelling as in narrative, plot, etc. Can they really think that the creation of a galvanizing-or-amusing narrative is a minor achievement? Can they really take the existence of a story that holds your attention and delivers a few satisfying surprises for granted? I notice, for instance, that while Charles Isherwood feels free to scold Martin McDonagh for having nothing to say, he neglects to ask how well John Patrick Shanley tells his story. Though I now marvel at this attitude, I confess that I once shared it. During college, grad school, and for a few years after -- when else? -- I thought of storytelling as a kind of unfortunate necessity that, perversely, fiction required. In this view, story is the clothesline you hang your artistry on; further, the "art" in a given work is to be found in deploying the artistry, not in creating the clothesline. I didn't come to my senses until I tried writing some narrative fiction of my own. When I did, I quickly discovered two things. Coming up with and telling a convincing and enjoyable story is hard work. And The ins and outs of narrative fiction fascinate me far more than the ins and outs of the nonnarrative game do. I'm tempted to assert as a once-and-for-all, objective truth the statement that the narrative-fiction package -- its history, how it works, etc -- is more fascinating than the nonnarrative-fiction package is. But, given that I'm really talking taste here, I'll back off from attempting anything so grand. Still, any look at world literature makes it clear that the taste for story is infinitely more widespread, deeply-rooted, and longstanding than is the taste for "artistry." (God bless artistry, of course.) In fact, the general preference for storytelling in fiction seems to be as fundamental as the general preference for figuration in the visual arts, for tonality in music, for decoration in dress, for rhythm and rhyme in poetry, and for traditional forms in architecture and urbanism. How then to explain the dismissive attitude of... posted by Michael at May 16, 2005 | perma-link | (31) comments

Fact of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to a recent study conducted in Mumbai, 999 out of 1000 abortions in that city were performed on female fetuses. (Source: a Teaching Company lecture series about Hinduism that I perhaps unfairly semi-panned in a recent posting.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 16, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments