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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Fact for the Day
  2. Donald's Fave Abstract Expressionist
  3. Conservatism: Yacht Club to the Rescue!
  4. More on DFW
  5. "Vanishing Point" Fails to Vanish
  6. Market Vs. Culture?
  7. Movie Linkage
  8. The DFW Story
  9. Ralph's Rugger: Game Over in Seattle
  10. Do Hard Times Inspire Great Art?

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A quarter of the kids in the U.S.'s kindergartens are Hispanic. Source. Get ready for it: By 2023, more than half of America's children will be non-white. For more cheery predictions, why not cut to a video? More. So maybe the time has come to go on vacation ... Maybe even do a little dance on the rubble of civilization ... Hit it, El-man: Best, if feeling a little overwhelmed by the changes we're witnessing, Michael... posted by Michael at March 7, 2009 | perma-link | (86) comments

Friday, March 6, 2009

Donald's Fave Abstract Expressionist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although I believe that Modernism in painting was an interesting experiment that has continued far longer than it should have and that the Abstract Expressionism school of 1945-1960 New York was an artistic dead end, I don't dislike it all. This might surprise some readers, given the usual content of my painting postings. My main objection to Modernism is the elitist tendency of many its supporters over the years to heap scorn on traditional painting. I, like the beloved Chairman Mao, believe in letting many flowers bloom, and I don't like being told (as I was when in college) that only Modernism counts. So just how much Modernist painting do I like? Not much of it, truth be told. Though I do have affection for the works of Franz Kline (1910-1962) who died at far too young an age (ten days short of his 52nd birthday). What do I like about Kline's paintings? Their boldness and strong composition; I'm not that much into subtlety. As with all artists, some works are better than others; below are some of the nicer Klines. Gallery Franz Kline New York, N.Y. - 1953 Orange Outline - 1955 Buttress - 1956 I might post on other Modernists from time to time. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 6, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Conservatism: Yacht Club to the Rescue!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to the persistence of Dave Burge who, patriotically, temporarily set aside his mission of locating the hottest set of Hemi overhead cams in the Midwest, we now have a valuable inside look as to what ails the conservative movement and the cure. The source of this information is über-patrician T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, Editor, the National Topsider whose commentary can be found here. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

More on DFW
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ron Rosenbaum contrasts the fiction of David Foster Wallace, which he doesn't like, to three novels that he does enjoy. All are detective novels. Gil Roth, who pointed Rosenbaum's piece out to me, recalls his own wrestle with DFW. Great line: "It felt as if he really needed an editor, but was stuck with enablers who believed they were publishing genius. They must’ve felt like 'the footnoting thing' was Wallace’s brand or something." Gil is always smart and shrewd about the way the book publishing world thinks and works. Best, Michael UPDATE: Alias Clio shares some thoughts about depression, depressives, and DFW. Jewish Atheist writes about why DFW was his favorite writer, here and here.... posted by Michael at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

"Vanishing Point" Fails to Vanish
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A general cultural point that movie history often drives home is this: You probably aren't a good predictor of what the future will make of the culture of your own time. Richard Sarafian's 1972 "Vanishing Point" is one of a zillion examples. At the time of its release, the film was largely taken as a fun exploitation pic for stoners. A long life was not predicted. These days, though, it's still influential, as well as a big fave with such cultureshaping coolguys as Richard ("Donnie Darko") Kelly and Quentin Tarantino. Had you watched the film back in '72, would you have predicted that? Come on, be honest. The film's director Richard Sarafian recalls making the film. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Market Vs. Culture?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do the activities of the free market undermine the cultural matrix the free market depends on for its existence? More. More. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute sees a lot going on in the work of the overlooked-by-the-mainstream Tyler ("Madea Goes to Jail") Perry. * Whatever happened to femmes fatales? * Lemmus Lemmus watches some thrillers. * Film journalist Anne Thompson has been giving her own FlipCam a workout. * Fave-of-mine Bill Kauffman considers the basketball movie "Hoosiers" one of the few American movies to get small-town America right. (FvBlowhard and I both agree: here and here.) * Roger Ebert rhapsodizes about French filmmaker Agnes Varda, who is now 80 years old. I like a lot of Varda's work too. * New York magazine profiles loose-cannon film critic Armond White. * Toby Young wonders why documentaries are often so much better than fiction films. * MBlowhard Rewind: I watched (and recommended) some trashy-arty movies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The DFW Story
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- D.T. Max's New Yorker article about David Foster Wallace -- the acclaimed literary novelist who committed suicide at the age of 46 last September -- should be of interest not just to fans of DFW's but also to those curious about this weird creature called "contemporary American literary fiction." Has enough time passed since DFW's death so that I can decently express a few scattershot observations about Wallace's life and work that aren't completely reverent? I hope so. All sympathy extended to his loved ones, of course, and I'm happy to agree that he was a brilliant and talented guy. In case you aren't aware of the legend ... Wallace emerged as a literary-world star in the '80s, while still an undergraduate at Amherst. He published a brash young novel; a lot of inventive short stories; a giant novel called "Infinite Jest" that some consider a masterpiece; and many pieces of journalism. He was known for his twisty sentences, his "maximalist" literary ambitions, and his GenX tone of sophisticated, bored, self-questioning plaintiveness. FWIW, I wasn't a fan. I wasn't even sympathetic, to be honest, though I had no reason to wish him ill either. There was just nothing about his work that hooked me. I found "Broom of the System" to be so much undergraduate showing-off; I liked a couple of his stories pretty well but found the others I tried to be a lot of juvenile grandstanding; I glanced at a couple of pages of "Infinite Jest" and thought "No thanks, I've already read too much Pynchon and DeLillo." I don't think I ever finished any of his journalistic pieces, which seemed to me to express a very peculiar combo of exhaustion and exhilaration, as though Wallace was convinced that the point of writing is to expend your vital forces chasing your thoughts around. As a person, DFW was an anxiety-ridden depressive. He had sweaty anxiety attacks while in high school; he was put on anti-depression meds while still in college; he attempted suicide several times; he was a heavy pot-smoker and drinker who eventually needed to go cold turkey; and he spent a couple of stretches in mental clinics. DFW was a total creature of academia, even so far as his family background went. His father taught philosophy, his mom taught English. Once he finished Amherst he went to Arizona for a creative-writing MFA. In the years following, he lived on book advances and by teaching creative writing at a number of different colleges. At one point, he decided that he'd burned up his interest in fiction. What did he do to try to resolve the dilemma? Why, he went back to school, this time in philosophy. In other words, in his entire life DFW almost never ventured out of academia, except to get treatment for his mental problems, or to recover from those treatments. DFW's writing was a total creature of contempo literary fiction. What was his fiction about? Language. Writing... posted by Michael at March 3, 2009 | perma-link | (52) comments

Ralph's Rugger: Game Over in Seattle
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about a Ralph Lauren store with a sort of rugby-cum-Yale Skull and Bones theme. The togs weren't all that bad. Aside from stenciled or patched on numbers, crests and other decorations that, to my mind, made the items a bit too odd to consider buying (and my taste runs to geezer-preppy). It seems [sniff] that the Seattle store has gone kaput even though it was located only a quarter of a mile from the University of Washington's Greek Row and a mile or two from a couple of Seattle's upscale neighborhoods (Laurelhurst and Windermere). Lauren is still flogging the brand as this is written. The website is up and indicating that 11 stores remain. And it seems like I've seen Rugby-like clothes in the Lauren area of the Bellevue Macy's. Given the present economy, it will be interesting to see how the concept plays out. I'm no fashion guru, so Ralph might not take my advice to eliminate the faux-1895 collegiate clutter on about half the line to broaden appeal. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 3, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, March 2, 2009

Do Hard Times Inspire Great Art?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I should have been paying enough attention to take the trouble to take notes or stash links. But it remained in peripheral vision status until this morning when I noticed a link on the Arts & Letters Daily site with its teaser caption stating: "Road novels, stories, and gangster films of the 1930s depicted American social mobility as a bitter cheat. We may now relive 1930s art..." (boldface in original). The linked article, on the Wall Street Journal site, was "Will this Crisis Produce a 'Gatsby'?" by a writer identified as "Sean McCann, a professor of English at Wesleyan University, is the author of 'A Pinnacle of Feeling: American Literature and Presidential Government.'" I didn't think much of the article, it using the slippery and often data-defective concept of income inequality as its peg. For instance, McCann asserts that creatures called "Republicans" caused a whole bunch of income inequality during the seemingly prosperous 1920s. As if there was no such thing when Woodrow Wilson was wheeled out of the White House for the last time. But McCann's article isn't my real subject. What I want to discuss is whether there is a link between economic conditions and quality in the various arts, roughly as traditionally understood. (Alas, that leaves out spray-can graffiti.) The point being, if indeed bad economic times are conducive to more high-quality art, then we might be in for an artistic renaissance of sorts if the economy stays in the gutter. My problem is that "quality" in arts is evaluated subjectively, unlike measures of, say, manufacturing quality in automobiles. Worse, I'm not a Lit Guy, not having the tools and reading experience to examine the quality of novels of the 1920s, 1930s, 40s, 50s and so forth to evaluate how literature of the Depression-ridden Thirties compared to other decades. It turns out that I can come up with one instance, though it's not in a field of traditional art. It's Industrial Design, which flourished during the 30s in part because of the depressed times. I recently wrote about that here. Another almost-traditional art that did well during the Depression was the Hollywood movie. Many observers consider the 1930s a "golden age" of American cinema, and I'm inclined to agree. A case can be made that there was a good deal of creativity in the arts during the years of the Weimar Republic in Germany (1919-33). French arts did well during the period 1868-1878 as the country stumbled through the final years of the Second Empire, defeat by the Prussians in 1870, the Paris Commune of 1871 and dealing with the burden of reparations to the German Empire in the years following the war. Post-World War 2 was tough for Italy, yet the country became noted for top-flight films and outstanding automobile styling between 1945 and 1955. Clearly, bad times do not necessarily mean bad times for the arts. On the other hand, good times do not mean bad times for the... posted by Donald at March 2, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Craft of Putz
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote about an exhibit on the Munich Secession at Seattle's Frye Art Museum and followed up with a posting about the most famous secessionist, Franz von Stuck. The most impressive works at the exhibit, so far as I was concerned, were by a Tyrolian named Leo Putz (1869-1940). Biographical information on Putz can be found here. Many of Putz's most important works are in the Unterberger Collection (the Web site is in German), which is perhaps why he is not well known in America. Here are examples of Putz's paintings. Gallery Friedliche Tage (Calm Day) - 1902 This is one of the earliest of Putz's paintings that I could locate on the Web. Waldesruhe (Peaceful Woods or perhaps Tranquility in the Forest) - 1925 And this is the latest. What interest me are those he painted approximately 1904-14 -- some of which are shown below. Dame in Blau (Woman in Blue) - 1908 (Detail) This can serve as introduction to Putz's "classic" phase, wherein he made heavy use of flat, often square-tipped brushes yielding a faceted look to the resulting painting. Lisl Im Herbslichen Garten (In an Autumn Garden) - 1908 Am Ufer (On the Bank) - 1909 This was one of Putz's paintings on display in Seattle. It is large and impressive, appearing brighter and fresher than the reproduction suggests. It was a prize winner at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Sommerträume (Summer Dreams) - 1907 This was also on display in Seattle. Again, a large painting displaying much skill with the seldom-seen technique. Apologies for the small illustration (which doesn't do the original any justice), but it was the best I could locate. --> Looking at the images posted above, I feel frustration that they don't offer much of a clue as to how the paintings actually appear. For example, the final two exhibit a fascinating lesson in color selection and brushwork on the faces, especially. Putz's brushstrokes did not result in color patches akin to cutting and pasting bits of colored paper. The paint is applied thickly so that the marks of the bristles often show. Moreover, the brush pressure on the stokes is not always uniform; a stroke might start hard and thick while ending in a somewhat feathered manner. Nor are the strokes aligned the same way (as can be seen in some of Cézanne's work). Instead, their orientation varies in such a way that the solidity and form of the subject is mimicked. Finally, brushstrokes in other parts of the painting than the subject are applied more conventionally. Putz's style wasn't created in an artistic vacuum, of course; he latched onto existing concepts and executed them extremely well. I won't go into all the possible influences, only citing Wilhelm Trübner (1851-1917) as one. One way of considering the style is as follows: Portrait painters such as Carolus-Durand and his student Sargent strove to see the head of a subject as a structure to... posted by Donald at March 1, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Visits with the New Urbanism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of calm and rewarding visits with recent New Urbanist projects: John Massengale strolls through Princeton's new Whitman College (designed by the brilliant Dmitri Porphyrios and funded by eBay's Meg Whitman); Laurence Aurbach takes a look at three award-winning European New-Urb neighborhoods. For contrast, take a look at Kevin Buchanan's roundup of Fort Worth's worst buildings. Those mostly-Modernist monstrosities are the kind of thing architects are all-too-prone to create. Fun to read James Kunstler slamming the SPLC's chic nightmare of a new headquarters too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Zmirak on Defence
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Zmirak offers seven reasons why the U.S. should cut back dramatically on defence spending. My favorite is # 7: If you knew a family that had more guns than all its neighbors put together, but was living on credit cards and cadging loans from people who hated them, what advice would you give them? Sums up a lot about our present condition, doesn't it? I liked Zmirak's book about Wilhelm Ropke a lot. Ropke -- who never failed to emphasize the cultural matrix the economy is part of and depends on -- is my favorite economist. Here's a terrific short intro to Ropke by Zmirak. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments