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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  1. Travel Screens
  2. Art Linkage
  3. Automobile Art by Reuters
  4. Bill Kauffman on Arts Subsidies
  5. More Townes
  6. Maui Notebook
  7. Secession: One of the Year's Political Themes?
  8. Future Times?
  9. Movies and Video, Pro and Am
  10. Alla Prima Alla Time

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Travel Screens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The number of screens one is exposed to these days, eh? They're everywhere. My least favorite place to be overwhelmed by them is in gyms: Please, can I just exercise? As abundant as they are in day-to-day life, they show up in downright blizzard numbers when one travels. They're in your face as you cab to the airport: They're by your side as you move through the airport: Hordes of them await you at the gate: And on board the plane itself, they often outnumber the passengers. Like cars and minimalls, TV/computer screens have become part of the natural environment. Any day now, real life will be morphing into an online adventure game. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 28, 2009 | perma-link | (25) comments

Friday, March 27, 2009

Art Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Was the high art of the 1960s the beginning of the end of all good things cultural? * Charles Moore has some funny jokes and smart ideas about how modernism has reduced itself to absurdity. * Jeff Weiner reviews Andrew Wyeth's nudes. * Yahmdallah passes along a funny poem/cartoon that sums up a lot in very few words. * The English painter David Hockney has decided that the computer is now up to the demands of serious drawing and painting. Here's some of the work that he has produced with Photoshop recently. * New York Artist Jorge Colombo has been making images on his iPhone. To my eyes, they almost look like little Hockneys. * Here's an interesting get-to-know-you video about the painter Thornton Willis. I'm curious to hear what watching it makes the realism-vs-abstraction crowd think. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the supertalented American painter John La Farge (1835-1910). In his own time, La Farge was huge. These days he has almost been forgotten. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 27, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Automobile Art by Reuters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Foreign-made cars began to appear on my radar during the early 1950s -- the odd MG TC here and Jaguar XK-120 there. Along with Volkswagens. By the time I was in high school, VWs were no longer startling sights on Seattle streets and there was a dealership not very far from home. I used to be a big-time automobile brochure gatherer and still have in my possession lots of sales lit from that era. Sadly, I can't seem to find my VW brochures with those really nice illustrations by Berndt Reuters (1901-1958). Those illustrations were nice artistically though they distorted reality a little (for more on this, see my post here). And for more on Reuters, look here. This page has a link called "gallery" that sends you to a lot of Reuters' car advertisement illustrations for non-VW brands such as Opel. Reuters seems to have used watercolor and airbrush. His work reminds me of that by master poster artist Ludwig Hohlwein, who I wrote about here. Here are examples of Reuters' work. Gallery Above are VW illustrations of the sort I remember. During World War 2 Reuters was doing work for car companies, but the subject matter was a little different. Below are some inter-war illustrations for publication covers. Finally, one more Volkswagen brochure spread. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 26, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bill Kauffman on Arts Subsidies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Radical reactionary Bill Kauffman is against governmental arts subsidies -- for the good of the arts. I'm with him on that. Look at it this way: If you support the NEA, don't you need to convince us that American culture has been better since the NEA began than it was in the pre-NEA era? In other words, don't you need to argue that the NEA has actually accomplished something worthwhile? Quick reminder: Without any help from the NEA, the U.S. somehow came up with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Julia Morgan, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, James Thurber, Dashiell Hammett, Mad magazine, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Howard Hawks, Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Teagarden, John Philip Sousa, Chuck Berry, Bugs Bunny, Ma Rainey, Stephen Foster, Jackie Wilson, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Henry Miller, Cass Gilbert, Bessie Smith, Ruth Draper, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Thanks to the NEA's efforts, we can brag of ... Any takers? Start reading our week-long interview with Bill Kauffman here and here. Bill and some fellow class-act cranks (Caleb Stegall, Russell Arben Fox, others) are now blogging here. Bonus links: Bill Kauffman writes a beautiful short appreciation of the eco-anarchist, novelist, essayist, and legend Edward Abbey. I'm a huge Edward Abbey fan myself. Start with "Desert Solitaire." I enjoyed Stewart Lundy's musings about art, conservatism, and grace. Allan Carlson, one of Kauffman's conspirators at Front Porch Republic, has written a solid essay about Wilhelm Ropke, my favorite economist. Read it here. Back here I wrote about what a glorious mess American culture is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 25, 2009 | perma-link | (66) comments

More Townes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few lovely performances from the late alt-country singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, recently uploaded to YouTube: I wrote a posting about Townes -- one of my favorite artists -- back here. Buy a copy of "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's poetic documentary about Townes, here. I see that Robert Earl Hardy has just published a biography of Townes. Here's the Townes Van Zandt website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 25, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Maui Notebook
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here I am in Maui (thanks for the local tips, commenters). Here are a few things I've noticed so far. * General Motors is alive and well on this island if low-profit rental cars are any indication. We and many other tourists are driving Chevy minivans. They are practical for folks in large groups (such as ours) with lots of luggage. We're also driving a Chevy HHR -- their version of a Chrysler PT Cruiser. One quirky feature is its power window controls: the buttons are on the center console. Chrysler is doing okay too, with their Sebring convertible line, anyway. Lots and lots of them, both ragtop and folding metal top. * Tattoos are plentiful on young adults. Many are quite elaborate with much green and blue shading. I hope hope their owners will appreciate the decision to have had them 20 years and 40 added pounds in the future. Like chewing gum, this deducts 10 observation guesstimate IQ points, or so I think. * Japanese. There aren't many tourists here, though I did see a group of about 20 this afternoon in Lahaina. Corroboration is the almost complete lack of Japanese language signage in stores and store windows. There's lots of that in Honolulu, plus I always see two, three or more Japan Airlines 747s at the Honolulu airport. This is not surprising. Japanese tend to spend their tourism budgets on four and five star attraction. In England, they're all over London and in evidence in Cambridge and Oxford, but not so much elsewhere. In Italy, they're usually found in places like Venice and Florence. I can't blame them. Given linguistic problems, they opt for tour group travel and tour bookers tend to aim for the famous destinations. Which Maui isn't, it seems. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 24, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Secession: One of the Year's Political Themes?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * More secession rumblings. * Macho rightie action star Chuck Norris wants Texas to secede. * Granola-munching academic hipsters in Vermonters are calling for secession too. * Here's a secessionism primer. Just to clarify: My point here isn't to argue for or against secession, though please feel free to go right ahead with such gabfests. My point is simply to notice that secession is being talked about out loud, and to wonder, "What might this mean? And what might explain why this is happening now?" BTW, if you think that the emergence of the topic of secession into the realm of public discourse has no significance, please say so -- but please also give reasons why you think that's the case. Bonus links: * Raw milk continues to be an issue too. Is there a connection between the raw milk movement and the various secession movements? I sure think there might be. * Ropke and Schumacher fan Matthew Redard discovers the Slow Money movement. (Hey, I've blogged approvingly about Ropke, Schumacher, and the Slow movement myself.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Shouting Thomas wants to secede from Woodstock. But will Woodstock let him go?... posted by Michael at March 24, 2009 | perma-link | (41) comments

Future Times?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Taking a look at the books, Eric Englund concludes that the real cause of the financial distress at the NYTimes hasn't been bad journalism or falling sales. Instead, it has been gross executive mismanagement. * Would the NYTimes save money by abandoning paper and sending each of their subscribers a Kindle instead? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, March 23, 2009

Movies and Video, Pro and Am
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in around 2000, Apple introduced an iMac that they called the "video iMac." The machine was supposed to be an easy-to-use darling that was up to the demands of video editing. Apple produced a blizzard of stylish, warm-'n'-huggy ads suggesting that you could now create movies that would be as slick as anything a pro director might put together. I sprang for a video iMac instantly. As it turned out, the machine was a very nice little computer -- but, where video went, it was a long, long way from living up to Apple's claims for it. The hard drive wasn't nearly big enough; the processor wasn't nearly fast enough. Despite the sluggishness of the process, I spent some time playing around with video on my video iMac, getting to know the then-current version of Apple's video-editing-for-hobbyists program iMovie. It was more fun and instructive as a taste of what might one day be than as a satisfying experience in its own right, to put it mildly. The experts were able to envision a time when everyday people would be using video freely. Heck, I was too. But it hadn't arrived yet. More interesting to me than the experience of making video on the video iMac were the feelings and thoughts that monkeying around with iMovie set off in me. I had myself a big wrestle with the word "movies," for instance. Movies ... Movies ... What does that word really signify anyway? Apple (and many journalists) yakked freely about using home computers for "moviemaking." I balked at this, mainly because what the word "movies" calls up in my brain isn't home footage of adorable kids, riotous dog-bathing sessions, and blissed-out ski vacations. What the word "movies" means to me is Takashi Miike, "Rules of the Game," "Casablanca" and the like: elaborate, enacted, visual / narrative experiences of some length and complexity. Now, I know perfectly well that the word isn't as restrictive as I'm using it here. Home movies, experimental movies, industrial and educational movies, and short movies have been part of the "movies" cosmos for a long time. Still, on an instinctual level I couldn't help feeling some exasperation with the claim that the couple-of-minutes-long jumbles of informal clips set to pop music that iMovie was usually used to create qualified as "movies." And I felt indignant that Apple was trying to convince people that they'd be able to create anything resembling real movies on an iMac. So, what was I to do about the word "movies"? I chewed this question over for a long time. Finally, as far as home iMovie-style creations went, I found myself thinking of them not a "movies" but as "personal videos." With this decision I breathed a sigh of relief. Rather than resenting these little nothings for not being "movies," I was able to start enjoying them as creations in their own right. I was also able to let go of my protectiveness about "movies"... posted by Michael at March 23, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Alla Prima Alla Time
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I can't remember when I consecutively bought two books that were different aside from their title. Until now. They are: Both are of the ever-expanding torrent of how-to-paint books. The first is by Al Gury, chairman of the painting department of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It's fairly recent. He treats alla prima (the Italian term for producing a painting in one session) to mean wet-into-wet oil paintings that are completed in a very few sessions if one won't do. Included is an interesting list of color palettes assumed to have been used by a number of Masters over the years. Another feature I liked was the step-by-step demonstrations. Gury has a decent style (I pretty much ignore step-by-steps by artists whose work doesn't appeal to me) and his demonstrations are well illustrated. That is, there are enough stages shown that the reader has a pretty good idea of what was going on. Yes, there are videos available that show the entire painting process, but they can be pricey if the artist is well known. My verdict: worth the money if you buy it at the Amazon price. I would have grabbed the Schmid book a long time ago but, out of ignorance, thought it was out of print and that prices of used copies were high. Well, that's the impression Amazon's site gave me. It turns out that Schmid has been self-publishing his book for years and new copies are available via his web site and that of his publishing company. I bought the paperback version for around $50. Schmid says that he almost always produces a painting in one session, but his book has next to nothing in the way of step-by-step demonstrations; almost all the illustrations are of completed works. On the other hand, there is a lot of text that gives the reader a pretty good idea how Schmid approached painting a dozen or so years ago when he wrote the book. This means that his book is more useful to jouneyman artists -- those with some experience -- than the usual how-to fare. What makes the book useful to the likes of me is that Schmid (in my opinion) is a top-notch painter and I like what he produces. Any information from a painter I respect I consider highly useful. As an aside, in many places he mentions the names of John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla as well as some of the Masters. Those make for a good crowd of heroes or models; I like where Schmid is coming from. Apparently he has a new book on landscape painting in the works. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 23, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recession-Proof Employment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fight the downturn: Become a stripper. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2009 | perma-link | (20) comments

Cherie, Nude
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- She's no Carla Bruni, god knows, but when she was 22 Tony Blair's wife Cherie posed nude for the painter Euan Uglow. (Friedrich von Blowhard and I are both fans of Uglow's work, for what that's worth. See some of his paintings here.) The Independent talks to some other Brits who have posed in the buff for painters and photographers. Bonus link: Do men and women take different photographs? My own small observation is that women are far, far more likely than men are to take photos of themselves. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Hardboiled Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- * The Rap Sheet offers a farewell to the recently-deceased crime-fiction giant Donald Westlake, here and here, with tributes by many crime-fiction scenesters. Loads of good reading suggestions. * Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai (a one-man antidote to the general pussification of book-writing and book-publishing) offers his own recollections of Westlake. * Say hi to an impressive new website devoted entirely to Westlake's masterful Parker novels. * Cullen Gallagher writes a nice appreciation of the underknown pulp novelist Day Keene. As far as I'm concerned, Day Keene was a major fiction talent. You're unlikely to hear anything about him if you follow the usual "literary" press, though. * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Donald Westlake, who (FWIW, of course) I consider a genius, as well as one of America's greatest entertainer-artists. * Bonus link: An introduction to the influential paperback-original crime-fiction line Gold Medal Books. A question to drive home one of my favorite themes: If you'd been following contempo fiction in 1950, would you have bet that 60 years later the lowbrow Gold Medal Books would be viewed by many as having been a vital and important moment in American literary history? C'mon, be honest. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments