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  1. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  2. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  3. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  4. In The Times ...
  5. The Trouble with Theories and Plans
  6. Politics and Econ Linkage
  7. French Style Brushwork
  8. Euan Uglow, Painstaking Painter

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Our ongoing economic troubles have yielded me a good deal of pain, anguish and indignation, but not as I recall too much humor. Nonetheless, I recently came across two very funny items. The first is from Mike Shedlock, and concerns Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Kohn’s attempts to ward off the Congressional (and therefore citizen and taxpayer) scrutiny of his very secretive agency…or private sector organization…or whatever it is that just happens to control the money supply of the United States of America. This attempt is of course being pushed by former presidential candidate and Representative Ron Paul and a host of fellow legislative sponsors. You should know that Mish, as Mr. Shedlock is known, calls openly for the abolition of the Fed on the grounds that neither its governors nor anyone else in the world knows the correct level of short term interest rates. In any event, he makes his sympathies pretty clear by some slight impositions on the text of a Washington Post article. The second is a column from Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg (“Goldman Sachs Loses Grip on its Doomsday Machine”) on the recent dust-up over the Russian former employee of Goldman Sachs who stole some of their proprietary trading software. The incredibly speedy response by our law enforcement officials to this existential threat to Goldman’s profits (contrast this, if you like, to the response you got if you've ever reported your TV stolen to the cops) is also discussed in a pretty funny video here. Cheers and laughter, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 11, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ken Auster (b. 1949) is another contemporary painter I'm featuring while taking a break from the 1870-1910 crowd I've been tending to deal with. Auster was and presumably still is a surfer dude, an activity that led to spending years working for Hawaii's Crazy Shirtz company. Ken Auster - 2004 Auster credits his experience in t-shirt design and printing technology for helping his maturity as a painter. Nothing like a little focus and discipline to wipe away that faux creativity, right? At any rate, he eventually set t-shirts aside to settle on the Southern California coast pursuing a career as a fine arts painter and teacher. His Web site is here. An article with some biographical information is here. One of Auster's quirks (from Crazy Shirtz days?) is giving his paintings wry titles. Below is a set that's fairly representative, though the titles aren't quite into the Auster "zone." Check out his Web site or Google Images for more paintings and titles. Gallery Primary Transportation Auster has painted many urban landscapes. This looks like lower Market Street in San Francisco. Guardian II A New York Fifth Avenue scene with the Empire State Building in the background. Island Fever San Francisco's Powell Street with people waiting for a cable car. Counter Culture Auster does people and interiors as well. Last Call Here is a bar scene, a favorite subject for Auster. Knockout Auster painted a number of scenes featuring famous bars with famous paintings in the background. The background painting here is George Bellows' "Dempsey and Firpo" of 1924, the original in New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Artist Robert Bissett's favorable take on Auster can be found here. Me? I see his paintings from time to time in Carmel-by-the-Sea and find them a noticeable notch above the average for realist-oriented galleries in that artsy town. My only complaint, and it's really in terms of my own taste, is that his work is just a tad too sketchy. But if I had scads of money I'd consider buying one of his smaller works. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Might Representational Painters Paint?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I wrote about Casey Baugh, a young artist with great skills who, early in his career, has concentrated on painting attractive young women. In reply to a comment, I commented: I am in general agreement that subject matter is a problem for realists (as it is for any artist not dealing in pure abstraction). That's why I hemmed and hawed about Baugh's need for maturity, my implicit thought was that perhaps in the future he could do better than simply creating well-crafted pinups. Until well into the 19th century a painter was basically an illustrator if he wasn't doing portraits, landscapes or still-lifes. So there were templates for acceptable subjects -- from history, religion, mythology, travel incidents and so forth. Today, even representational fine-artists shy away from such subjects, perhaps to their ultimate cost. Exceptions: certain painters doing war genre or events from car races that appeal to a limited clientele. More recently, I posted on another artist, Euan Uglow, prompting a comment from Friedrich von Blowhard, who observed: I still maintain the biggest obstacle to a broad-based revival of traditional art is that mere skill in representation is not enough to get us there; this view ignores the very large amount of theoretical armature that traditional (i.e., Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic) art possessed that has been discarded or taken over by the Modern-Postmodern camp. For example, "representational" artists of the present have abandoned history painting, especially religious history painting displayed in churches (the very core from which all forms of traditional art grew), which has migrated largely into politicized conceptual art and installation art today. I suspect something like the full glories of Renaissance and Baroque painting are only possible if either (1) contemporary realists re-embrace religion or religious history as a serious subject for their paintings or (2) contemporary realists find some other source of serious content that will allow them to make serious statements that communicate to the broader population. Since few representational artists seem to be taking either route #1 or route #2 seriously, the representational revival is all to likely to remain locked in its current ghetto. Fun, but not destined for greatness. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression is that commissions for representational easel or mural paintings of historical, religious or mythological events are rare. Elite thinking in the USA holds war to be evil (unless someone on their side wants to fight one), so that rules out battle scenes. Nationalism is also a no-no, so depictions of other historical scenes of the sort common before the 20th century are also likely to be scarce. That same elitist group isn't especially keen on religion (unless perhaps one worships Gaia), so cathedral and church building isn't the growth industry it was in, say, the 14th century and the production of religious paintings follows suit. This suggests that any return to the subjects common from the Renaissance to the Great War will have to... posted by Donald at July 8, 2009 | perma-link | (17) comments

In The Times ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Time to generate even more debt, or to fret about the debt we've already created? * Hard to believe, but the people who make porno movies are once again throwing out storylines and plots. * It's Google vs. Microsoft. * Designers and builders continue indulging their bizarre obsession with glass. I bitched back here about how sicko it is, the way architects over-do the glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Trouble with Theories and Plans
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On the occasion of the death of Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and president at different times of Ford Motor Company and the World Bank, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens penned this column for today's edition. As is my practice, I'm posting some excerpts below, just in case the link disappears. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said that "in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." Robert S. McNamara, who spent many years thinking about the Vietnam War, first as an architect and then as a critic (and getting it wrong on both ends), was a man who believed mainly in plans. ... A recurring pattern played itself out over the 20 years McNamara spent at the Pentagon and the Bank. Giant troves of quantitative data were collected, analyzed, disaggregated and reassembled. Plans -- typically on a five-year timetable -- were conceived and then, presumably, executed. He once called the Bank "an innovative, problem-solving mechanism . . . to help fashion a better life for mankind." Nobel Prizes in economics would later be awarded for disproving this mechanistic notion of institutions. But no Nobel was required to understand that rationalism isn't a synonym for reason, much less common sense, or that a planned solution was a workable or desirable solution, or that war or poverty were "problems" in the same sense as, say, a deficit. There was also a human element, which -- depending on whom you believe -- McNamara either didn't get or didn't have. ... Now that's old history. But the mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty. Barack Obama might take a close look at McNamara's obituaries and note that he, too, is the whiz kid of his day. Having survived the Ivy League Ph.D. grind only to leave campus for the real (business) and semi-real (government) worlds, this matter of theory and practice is a subject dear to my heart. In the Sociology grad schools I attended in the mid-late 1960s, Theory was worshiped by many professors and students. Since Theory was in the air and because I have a weakness for ideas, it took me literally decades to wean myself of it and deal with the world as it is. Ideas, hypotheses and, yes, even theories have a legitimate place in life. It's just that they're a part of the picture, often a small part. One danger is that theories, due to their clarity, simplicity and whatever other characteristics theories possess, is that they can become more real than reality to theory-lovers. Planning is usually based on some sort of idea structure, often one or more theories. People who love theories are often sympathetic to the concept of planning. After all, isn't it rational to plan things rather than simply "muddle through?" -- this concept itself being something of a theory. A danger here is... posted by Donald at July 7, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, July 6, 2009

Politics and Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * From the right ... John Medaille makes a lot of good points in this critique of capitalism. Medaille, a very interesting guy, blogs regularly at the "reactionary-radical" website Front Porch Republic. * From the left ... Alexander Cockburn thinks that Obama resembles JFK in a number of unfortunate ways. * F. Roger Devlin introduces conservationist and immigration restrictionist Madison Grant. * Martin Regnan makes a good stab at summarizing the worldview of Mencius Moldbug. * Whiskey argues that the ad business is strongly anti-white-male. * Hey, Betaboyz -- there's still time to join the Church of David Alexander. (Link thanks to * As a fan of both the economist Wilhelm Ropke and the financial journalist James Grant, I was pleased to read in this 1996 interview with Grant that he learned a lot from Ropke. * Randall Parker assesses the likelihood of immigration amnesty under Obama. * Thanks to Bryan, who turned up these witty WWIII posters. * People, eh? I confess that I have moments when I sympathize deeply with anti-humanism ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2009 | perma-link | (20) comments

French Style Brushwork
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tour de France season returns. For a few years I followed it pretty closely. Closely by my standards, I should add; most of the time I pay attention only to who the ultimate winner is. I followed it "closely" when I happened to be touring France myself during the first part of July and wanted to make sure my route and the Tour's route didn't intersect within a couple of days of each other. I mention the Tour de France because of its logo that I was seeing on t-shirts and baseball caps when I was in the country a month or so ago. Here it is: Tour de France logo Thanks to my art background I flatter myself thinking I can "read" shapes, patterns, symbols and their ilk. But I must confess that it took me weeks to realize that the TdF logo is more than words. There's a sketchy image of a bicyclist embedded amongst the lettering. The "o" in Tour and the yellow circle represent bicycle wheels, the "r" in the same word is the cyclist's body and the dot above the yellow circle is his head. Get it? Perhaps one reason I didn't get it was the brushy quality of the lettering which I associate with France. Being hopeless on doing lettering of any kind (a major reason why I decided not to become a commercial artist), I admire even the guys who letter signs in supermarkets announcing the price of carrots. And the free brush style used in the logo is a lot easier than having to mimic an actual typeface, though still beyond my limited ability. In fact, it's very close to drawing. Moreover, there's a loose, brushy illustration style that also strikes me as being French in spirit even if a French artist wasn't responsible. Let's take a look. Gallery Macintosh "Picasso" poster - ca.1984 This is the Apple Macintosh computer marketing image created 25 years ago when it was launched. Some Web sites call the object shown above Macintosh's "Picasso poster." I can't remember if Apple used the same term. But Picasso himself was long dead and someone else created the brushy, sketchy image. I half recall that the artist was indeed French, but don't remember the name. Any Mac mavens to the rescue? Macintosh floppy disk The image wasn't only a poster. That might have been an afterthought because the image adorned Macintosh packaging and other Mac-related stuff including the label on the floppy disk shown above. Macintosh Selling Guide cover The Mac guidebook cover above didn't have the entire drawing of the computer but instead featured a design using just the mouse and its cord. British Vogue cover - December, 1934 Such brushwork was nothing new. Half a century before the Macintosh illustration and graphics we find this December, 1934 British Vogue cover. Vogue cover art - February, 1935 - by Eric An example from a few months later is this American Vogue cover... posted by Donald at July 6, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Euan Uglow, Painstaking Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of weeks ago I noticed this book at the local college book store. For the paltry $125 price I could glean the life's work of an English painter I'd never heard of. Of course that made me curious. Even his name -- Euan Uglow (1932-2000) -- promotes head-scratching. Okay, the first name seems to be an alternative spelling of "Ewan." But the last name? I'm not at all sure how it's pronounced, partly because it doesn't look British. Might it be Russian "Ooo-glov?" Or an anglicized "You-glow?" Perhaps one of our readers from the Ancestral Isles might chip in to help this befuddled Yank.* Regardless, Uglow rates a Wikipedia biography that can be found here. It seems he was greatly influenced by his training to create spare paintings of meticulously measured subjects. This measurement was so important that tick marks are left on some of the completed works. One result of this taking of pains was a small lifetime production of paintings; he taught art to help earn a living. According to the Wikipedia article, interest in Uglow has been increasing. Not all that interest is favorable, as this Guardian review indicates. It's from the 8 July 2003 issue, written by Adrian Searle. The page is slow to build and might disappear some day, so I excerpted some of the most pointed bits: He was a figurative painter of what has been called the School of London, and his reputation was built on hard-won images, on relentless looking and describing. His art was founded on empirical measurements, on constant revisions, on a technique that was anything but flashy. His paintings bore the imprint of his repeated returns to the minutiae of observation. ... Uglow was a student at the Slade of William Coldstream, whose own life paintings had about them a chilling air of self-denial, and Uglow went on to develop Coldstream's approach through his own years of teaching in the same art-college life room. To me, it always smelled like a death room; every year a new crop of belated Euston Road painters would emerge from it, their pallid painted figures nicked with little registration points and tiny painted crosses, like so many torture victims, done-over in shades of umber and grey. A style like any other, this was and is a look masquerading as a moral quest. About it all hangs an air of futility, and a sense of something murdered.... Uglow's own paintings are, on the other hand, often colourful, but it feels like studio colour rather than the uncontrollable colour and light of the world. His blues are always the same blue, the reds and pinks invariably mixed from the same base hues, whether he is painting skin, the studio floor tiles or the decorated facade of a church in Cypress. Not that Uglow ever used much paint in any case. Like so much else in his art, touch is suppressed and pleasure is deferred. In the end,... posted by Donald at July 5, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments