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  1. Peripheral Artists (2): Axel Gallén
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Saturday, December 3, 2005

Peripheral Artists (2): Axel Gallén
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the second in a series of posts about painters who were figuratively peripheral to Established Narrative of the history of art and geographically peripheral in Europe. The first post, about Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt, is here. The subject of the present post is another Finnish painter, Axel Gallén (1865-1931), born to a Swedish-speaking family, who became a Finnish-nationalist icon, changing his name in 1907 to the Finnish form Akseli Gallén-Kallela (the appended name in reference to an ancestral farm). For more detailed biographical information than I'll present below, you can link here and here; the link to The Gallén-Kallela Museum is here. Should you find yourself in Helsinki with a few hours to spare and visit the Ateneum art museum, you'll see many paintings by Gallén. And as is almost always the case, they are more impressive in reality than they seem in illustrations such as those presented below. Gallén, like Edelfelt, received his early training in Finland (some of it from Edelfelt himself) and then moved to Paris, staying there for about three years total in two sessions between 1884 and 1889. Both times he was enrolled in the Académie Julien, a popular spot for non-French artists such as Childe Hassam and Robert Henri as well as French-born artists such as Matisse. While in Paris, Gallén was influenced by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), an artist who influenced many others in the 1880s including the "Glasgow Boys" (stay tuned for postings on Bastien-Lepage, some of the Boys and the painting scene in the mid-1880s). Unlike Edelfelt, Gallén turned from French influence as the 19th Century waned, drifting towards German Expressionism in the 20th Century. Mixed with this artistic change was an increasingly heightened sense of Finnish nationalism (Finland was part of the Russian Empire in those days) manifested in the desire to illustrate Finnish folk-myths such as the Kalevala. By the time of the Great War, Gallén was morphing into a traveler and "character." He was welcomed in Germany and Hungary -- the latter was satisfying, thanks to the kinship between the Hungarian and Finnish languages (though nothing I've read indicates how well Gallén actually spoke Finnish). He and his family spent months in what is now Kenya, where he met safari-ing former President Teddy Roosevelt. In the early 20s he spent more than two years in the United States, much of the time in Taos, New Mexico, still in its early years as an artistic Mecca. Upon Finnish independence in 1917 Gallén sided with General Carl Mannerheim, who emerged victorious in the post-war, post-revolutionary turbulence that swept over the former Russian Empire. He held some important positions, working on ambitious illustration projects all the while his artistic skills were withering. Gallén died of pneumonia in Stockholm 7 March 1931 while on his way home from giving lectures in Denmark. Gallery "Boy and Crow" -- 1884 Although painted before Gallén reached Paris and became influenced by Bastien-Lepage, this resembles contemporary... posted by Donald at December 3, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost is having a reading of her erotic/satirical fiction in Park Slope this Sunday. Smart woman: I suspect that we're on the verge of an era when adults once again allow themselves to enjoy classy erotic entertainments. * Stephen Bodio confesses that he's a Derb fan, wonders what's conservative about over-ambitious neocons, and announces that he's off to Kurdistan. * Poynter Online's Sree Sreenivasan reports that, while paper-newspaper readership has declined 2.6% over the last six months, online readership of newspapers over the same time is up 11%. * You'd think those things would get in the way of being a good athlete, but I guess they don't. (NSFW) * Dustbury celebrates the life and work of Joe ("You Talk Too Much") Jones. * In the Battle of the Steves, Steve Sailer has been showing Steven Leavitt (author of the bestselling "Freakonomics") no mercy whatsoever. UPDATE: The Economist comes out on Steve Sailer's side, not that they're about to mention Steve Sailer ... * Some people have a very peculiar sense of how to have fun ... * Scott Chaffin indulges in a a Texas-sized Thanksgiving, and ponders a low-carb future. * Here's a a disruption that ought to crop up on more news reports. I love the expression she makes when she realizes her moment of glory has been ruined ... * So what exactly is suburban sprawl anyway? David Sucher sponsors a lively discussion, featuring terrific comments by Brian Miller, Benjamin Hemric, and others. * Searchie visits the Neue Gallerie to check out an Egon Schiele exhibition, and recognizes something of herself on the walls. * One of Tyler Cowen's recommendations in "How to Choose A Charity" is "don't donate to beggars." A lively comment thread follows. * Your Lying Eyes attends a Steven Pinker talk, and reports that Pinker semi-sorta endorses the Cochran/Hardy/Harpending theory about Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence. * Fred Himebaugh can't see what's so special about Marilyn Monroe. * Well, at least this girl can console herself with the thought that the camera didn't catch her in an ungroomed state ... If that link doesn't work, go here and then Klik through. (NSFW) * For the first time ever, Lynn Sislo blogs in her p.j.'s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 1, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Crackberry, Etc.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Researchers in England have found that letting yourself be buffeted about by email, Blackberries, phone messages, etc., can destroy your concentration and lower your IQ even more than smoking pot does. Excerpt: Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep ... The average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users. Meanwhile, the New York Times' Sarah Kershaw reports that a new psychological dysfunction has been identified: Internet Addiction Disorder. Excerpt: Dr. Cash and other professionals say that people who abuse the Internet are typically struggling with other problems, like depression and anxiety. But, they say, the Internet's omnipresent offer of escape from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for anonymity can also lure otherwise healthy people into an addiction. Now, where was I? Oh, right: off to my Blogaholics Anonymous meeting. Tonight's Thursday, right? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 1, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Computerized Sudoku
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while back, Michael posted about Sudoku number-grid puzzles. Some commenters, me included, are puzzle-averse. And some in the Blowhards community, me included, are computer geeks. So what could be nicer than to stumble across a computerized Sudoku-solver for puzzle-averse geeks. All you need to do is download the J computer language from here, hop through some J language tutorials here (très facile, non?) to get the hang of the code, and then peruse this article and key in the computer code as well as an actual Sudoku data array and run the program. Voila!: puzzle solved. Best of all, you then can use the freed-up Sudoku-solving time to enrich your mind by reading informative and entertaining 2Blowhards postings and comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 30, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Right Reason Interviews Roger Scruton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not to be missed: Right Reason's Max Goss is interviewing the conservative political philosopher Roger Scruton. Part One is up today. Great passage: The free market is a necessary part of any stable community, and the arguments for maintaining it as the core of economic life were unanswerably set out by Ludwig von Mises ... The problem for conservatism is to reconcile the many and often conflicting demands that these various forms of life impose on us. The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.) How do you respond to Scruton? I'm amazed he isn't better-known than he is. I certainly don't agree with him about everything. (I don't agree with anyone about everything.) He's stuffy in a way I often have little patience with. But despite his squareness, I like reading him. I almost always find him brilliant and provocative. He almost always sets my brain abuzz. He's written a number of books I've enjoyed wrestling with, including a history of modern philosophy, an analysis of sexual desire, and an intro to modern culture. Here's another online interview with Scruton. Here's a terrific piece he wrote for City Journal, and another terrific piece he wrote for the New Criterion. Here's Scruton's own website. It's a blogging event! And the comments are even open. Many thanks to Right Reason and to Max Goss. Best, Michael UPDATE: Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb lays out a taxonomy of liberal tyranny. 2Blowhards did a q&a with Jim that can be read here.... posted by Michael at November 30, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Moviegoing: "The Passenger"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Of the major post-World War II film directors, Michelangelo Antonioni was never one of my favorites. I found his films gorgeous and impressive, but I also found them slow, pretentious, and affected. Watching Antonioni's films, I alternated between dozing off, getting the giggles, and feeling hypnotized by so much austere beauty. So the question arises: What was I doing at Manhattan's wonderful Landmark Sunshine art-cinema-plex the other night watching the rerelease of Antonioni's 1975 "The Passenger"? And what accounts for the way I spent the film's two-hour running-time feeling so very blissed-out? Nostalgia and curiosity certainly had a lot to do with it. When the film -- which stars Jack Nicholson and Maria ("Last Tango") Schneider -- was originally released, I was a college kid who had only recently grown interested in movies. Well, not just interested: I was deep in a head-over-heels-in-love phase. Lordy, what a lot of arty and funky filmmaking was around at the time. I tumbled for the work of many of the Europeans -- Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut, Godard, Bertolucci -- as well as many of the Americans who were inspired by Euro-filmmaking: Peckinpah, Altman, Coppola ... So, although Antonioni was never one of my faves, watching "The Passenger" 30 years after it was initially released was like remembering what it was to fall in love for the first time. There's no disputing that Antonioni was one of the giants of the post-World-War-II art scene. Older than most of the filmmakers whose generation he was part of, Antonioni grew up in the '20s and '30s in Emilia-Romagna, and was already in his 60s by the time he made "The Passenger." He studied economics in college; he spent time painting, working on scripts, and making documentaries. Maria, Jack: Where are they going, man?I mean, really going? By the early 1950s, when he began making his own feature films, Antonioni had a developed point of view and an already well-developed style. Although his work grew out of neo-realism, his style always tended towards the architectural, the painterly, and the abstract. Right from the outset, his films were enigmatic, high-art mood pieces. The subject Antonioni focused on was the alienation -- "ennui" and "anomie" were words much in use in those days -- some people were feeling in the post-war world. What this generally translated to onscreen was unhappy marriages; failures of communication; mysteries that were never solved; and spiritually void people moving through concrete and industrial wastelands, or through landscapes that mirrored their confusion and barrenness. And, often, a sense of romantic/erotic yearning. With three films in the early 1960s -- "L'Avventura," "L'Eclisse," and "La Notte" -- Antonioni's reputation was set. He became as widely recognized a master as Fellini, Rossellini, Visconti, and De Sica. He may have become even more influential than any of them, and remains a major influence today; among his fans are Robert Altman, Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne, Jeremy Podeswa, and Atom Egoyan. With 1964's... posted by Michael at November 30, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pronunciation is Bad (Advertising)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever notice print advertisements where the headline is in the form of those pronunciation guides found in dictionaries? Sorry I can't find an example to display or link to, but what you get looks something like this (if your computer can match mine's symbol set, that is): Thĭs ĭz Härd tôô Fŏl’ô (Actually, the "Th" should have a line through it and the first two "o"s and the final one should have horizontal lines over them -- this is the best I can mimic my dictionary.) I suppose my failing here is that I have an irrational aversion to pronunciation symbols (though, perversely, I use 'em when I need 'em). Sort of like sentence diagramming. Big-time rear-pains when I was in grammar school. What's more, I can't imagine what the copywriter and art director were thinking when they created advertisements with symbol-strewn headlines. Did they think the headline could be easily scanned? Who were they trying to reach? And who were they trying to impress? -- their Fifth Grade teachers? Did they ever think it might be a turn-off to oddballs like moi? Reactions, anyone? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 29, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mambo Bomb-o
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back when Broadway was Broadway, new productions were "tried out" "on the road." The first stop often was New Haven (remember the phrase "we bombed in New Haven" -- seems to me that eventually a show actually had that name), and if the show left there alive it would likely move to Philadelphia for further refinement before hitting The Great White Way. In recent decades other tryout cities have been used: Washington comes to mind. San Francisco was the site of a musical's tryout last June and The Fiancée and I went to see it. The musical was "The Mambo Kings," based on the 1989 book "The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love" by Oscar Hijuelos and the movie "The Mambo Kings." Here is some background information. Reviewers were not kind, as can be seen here and here. So "doctors" were brought in, but to no avail: the scheduled August / rescheduled September Broadway opening never happened. What did I think of The Mambo Kings? My problem dealing with that question is the nub of this posting. You see, I'm pretty much a naïf when it comes to theatre, music, dancing, stagecraft -- you name it: Terry Teachout or Mark Steyn I ain't. I've got a pile of degrees from pretty good schools including Dear Old Penn, not to mention [ahem] being a Certified Cultural Blowhard. Yet when it comes to performing arts I'm probably a less-competent, more-inhibited judge than the proverbial hayseed visiting New York for the first time. That hayseed has a sense of what he likes. As for me, I seriously lack experience as a theatergoer, yet I've read enough reviews and other theatre information over the years that I have some vague notion that there are things I'm supposed to like. Regarding The Mambo Kings, I found the up-tempo Cuban music fine. The dancing seemed energetic and the female dancers were attractive. Because my hearing is sub-par and I've always had trouble with accented speech, I might have missed important bits of dialogue. Nevertheless, the Cuban introductory scene included some critical (for the later, New York, part of the show) mayhem that happened so quickly I failed to grasp its meaning. Because of that and probably for other reasons, I never really understood or sympathized with the main characters. So when the tragedy of the ending came and went, my attitude was "So what?" All of this brings to mind the matter of musicals that I've liked and why I liked them. But sadly, I've seen so few and many of them were seen so many years ago that I've forgotten much of what they were about, not to mention my reactions. Seems to me I liked "Guys and Dolls" and I liked Carol Channing in a 1973-ish revival of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." I liked "The Producers" mostly because of its premise and the comedy. I saw a "Pajama Game" revival in London a few years ago that was okay.... posted by Donald at November 28, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments

Most Costly Golf Shot Ever?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It was a good swing -- nice rotation, decent head speed, a satisfying impact. But instead of following its usual slicey route, my shot sailed left, then further left, then around a distant copse of trees. For one of the only times in my life, I'd hit a hook off the tee. How'd that happen? As I rounded the cluster of trees in search of my errant drive, I saw a woman standing in her backyard, just the other side of a small fence. She was holding a golf ball and looking at me. "Is this yours?" she asked. My drive, it turns out, had embedded itself in one of the glass panes of her porch door. Really, she was very pleasant about it. God knows I couldn't have been more sheepish and apologetic. The upshot: I'm thinking of framing that bill, enshrining it as a kind of anti-trophy. Are there visitors who have hit golf shots that have cost them more than $154? Sigh: For the money my one hooked drive cost me, I could have played an entire round of golf at a fancy golf club. I Googled "most costly golf shot ever" but learned nothing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 28, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Las Vegas, City of NOISE
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Las Vegas used to appall me. But time has worked its magic: I've either mellowed or perhaps become a tad more libertarian, and Vegas has branched out from being a purveyor of stuff that satisfied a spectrum of our less-admirable tendencies. Knowing of my immunity to gambling, Las Vegas, like a clever virus, has mutated itself into a town with fun architecture and world-class shopping. Nevertheless, I just returned from a week there and can proudly announce that I didn't buy as much as one single solitary expensive Italian sweater, a type of garment that induces a curious weakening of my penny-pinching ways. [Pause for wild applause from readers.] Alas, Vegas still falls a wee bit short of perfection for me. For instance, it's by far the noisiest town I can think of. Here are a few examples: If you are making your way south on The Strip from the posh Venetian you pass by the Casino Royale -- a perfect setting for a James Bond movie if Bond was played by Danny DeVito. The Royale's sidewalk awnings are equipped with speakers constantly blurting out inducements such as how generous the payoffs are. There's no escape till you cross the property line. Across the street from the Venetian is the Treasure Island, a large casino apparently in the midst of an image-tweak. In front of the hotel tower is a pool with two mock sailing ships, one a pirate vessel. In past years, the free show for passers-by had the ships blasting away at one another and one eventually sinking. This year, one ship is populated by "sirens" bearing suspicious resemblance to showgirls. The sirens do the typical Vegas tusch-twisting to a blasting disco beat and the pirates do their thing before their ship inevitably sinks below the waves. Oh, and "Treasure Island" is being nudged aside in favor of [drumroll] "TI"! The noisiest street experience for me was a sign in front of the Fashion Show Mall, home to Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. The images on the sign were of an animated rapper and the noise level of the music was almost painful. The advertiser? -- Apple's iPod. iPod sign on Las Vegas Strip. The noise experience for most visitors begins at the airport. The baggage claim area has a large video screen at one end showing 10-15 second snippets of headliner acts playing at various casinos. The place is so noisy it's hard to converse with people. But there are other kinds of noise. Computerized slot machines emit a tinkly-bubbly sound that is moderately loud if you're sitting in front of one. But if you are standing 30 or more feet away from a casino floor, what you hear is a softer, almost- "white noise" where the sounds of hundreds of slot machines combine. Good thing I'm half-deaf, due in part from firing M-1 rifles when in the army. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 27, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments