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  1. Action! ... Camera! ... Paint!!!
  2. Wretchard's Four Rules of Lying
  3. Something Rotten
  4. Unusual Literary List
  5. N.C. Wyeth: A Close-Up View
  6. Euphony and the Art of Writing

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Action! ... Camera! ... Paint!!!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I bought a copy of this book hot off the press due to my curiosity about how artists go about their trade. That artists have been using cameras as a working tool since the days of the French Impressionists (think Degas) is no longer much of a secret. Commercial illustrators were no exception, probably being the most intensive users because of the need to economize on model's fees and meet deadlines. Norman Rockwell did use models for the first 20 or so years of his career but then eased over to using photographic references and even projectors as tracing aids. He seems to have thought this shameful at first ("Real artists don't do such things! You have sinned!!"), but eventually became a skilled and enthusiastic photographic director. (He would plan his painting, locate appropriate costumes and props, carefully recruit models from around town and then supervise the posing. In almost every case, however, another man would actually snap the pictures.) Rockwell went to such pains because his artistic nature was that he could paint well only what was before him. Apparently he even found it difficult to make a major color change from what a model was wearing. Perhaps for this reason all of his thousands of reference photos were in black and white, not color. Due to a fire that destroyed his Vermont studio, most of the early photos are gone. It would have been interesting to see how his transition from live models to photos evolved. By the time the book is able to pick up the matter, Rockwell took (as the auteur) lots of photos of bits of the final painting and used the ones that best suited his needs. In other words, if a scene had more than one character, he might have separate photos of the models and even detailed photos of faces, hand poses, and so forth. In later years he sometimes would have complete scenes photographed. The charm and intrigue of the book is its juxtaposition of reference photos and final paintings or reproductions of Saturday Evening Post covers (probably in cases where the original art was lost). The book was created in conjunction with an exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 24, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wretchard's Four Rules of Lying
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by the squabble between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic three-color (pale blue, light red-orange, white) poster of Obama, Richard Fernandez ("Wretchard") muses about the issue at hand and the general matter of lying here. You might well wish to read the whole piece, but below I extract Wretchard's four rules for public lying. 1. The first and most important thing is for the impostor to claim the motivation of revolutionary impulses. That way even those who know he is lying will think he is lying in a “good” cause. If the last refuge of scoundrels is the flag, the ultimate protective banner is the Red Flag. Hannah Arendt once wrote “Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.” Find the hole in your audience’s brain and drive your truck of manure through it. 2. The second rule is to put forward the most extravagant claims. Don’t be half-assed about lying. The more extravagant the fib the better. A sufficiently resourceful fraud clears his path of unbelievers by sheer audacity alone. Tell a big enough lie and no one would believe you could be so bold. As the fictional Rudolf Rassendyl proved in the Prisoner of Zenda that it is better to pass yourself off as King of Ruritania rather than a minor noble. A minor noble may be questioned, but the King will not be. It is all or nothing. And given that no one wants to tug at the Royal Robe to see if it is real ermine, the fraudster often gets it “all”. 3. The third rule is that when questioned, destroy the questioner. When impersonating the King be determined to have everyone who doubts your identity thrown in the tower for treason. Once you succeed in beheading the first challenger there will be no second challenges. 4. The fourth rule is the most important. Avoid trying to bluff those who are too big to be faced down. What undid both Fairey and Ward Churchill was that they didn’t know when to stop their imposture. They finally took it too far. Fairey, who had been successful up to that point tried to bluff his way past a major news organization and failed. Ward Churchill was already a professor when he made his “little Eichmanns” speech after 9/11 unleashed a tide of outrage he couldn’t outface. If Fairey had not launched his poster and Churchill had not made his “little Eichmanns” speech, they might still be intellectuals in good standing. Most lying is small-scale, which might be what makes Wretchard's thoughts interesting: we seldom think about huge lies and the liars that speak them. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 23, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Something Rotten
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's guest blogger is "Zdeno" which, translated, means "like Michael Blowhard, this writer needs cover for job-related reasons." Here is his report: * * * * * For almost half a decade, my life was a Johnny Cash song. I would drink to the point of blacking out four nights a week, sleep past noon every day, and devote most of my waking hours to chasing loose women and an altered state of mind. I exaggerate only slightly when I say that I accomplished, learned and produced nothing of value throughout this entire dark age of my life. Was I a bum? A liquor-soaked storefront panhandler? A toothless vagrant, shuffling up and down the streets of Baltimore, peddling handjobs for crack-cocaine? Not quite. I was a student at one of our continent’s better Universities. And my experience was hardly unique. If I learned one thing over those years, it’s that the modern University is anything but an institution of higher learning, and trust me: Unless you are still inside the beast, or so fresh from the rear of her digestive system that the smell still lingers, you do not fully understand how completely and utterly ridiculous the contemporary higher-education system has become. Let’s think about this from the perspective of a historian from the distant future, parsing through the delicate, yellowing, primary sources of 2009: What will he make of the present situation? How will he explain North American Universities to his colleagues and students? He’ll start with the positive, I’m sure, as a matter of courtesy. So what positive traits do our Universities exhibit? First, Universities are filled with the best and the brightest in our society. Exceptions exist, but the general principle is: If an eighteen year old in 2009 is smart and ambitious, he goes to University. If he is really smart and ambitious, he stays there for a second and maybe even a third degree. As a result of this pattern, Universities are overflowing with intelligent and driven people. Also, Going to University is generally a good idea. The vast majority of good jobs that are not called “starting a successful business” require some sort of accreditation. In addition to the direct benefits to students’ careers, Universities also serve as an ideal opportunity for the future leaders of society to form exclusive social and professional networks, and perhaps track down a high-status, high-earning spouse. As a friend of mine puts it, half the girls in her Med program are just there for their M.R.S. degree. Perhaps most importantly, going to University is fun. The vast majority of University alumni look back on their University days fondly, and an entire sub-genre of films aimed at young adults is based on idealization of the college years. I certainly had a blast, and my impression is that I wasn’t unique in this regard. As a result of these qualities, everyone in 2009 agrees with the vague notion that University is a good thing.... posted by Donald at October 22, 2009 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unusual Literary List
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Edward Craig, back in Michigan after bravely braving San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore and living to report his findings here, now unearths for us a surprising nugget of ... well, let him report: * * * * * Michael Blowhard often lamented on this site about the lack of appreciation for the writing skills of popular novelists. These novelists often share the same lament. In his book On Writing Stephen King relates a story about Amy Tan at a conference, complaining about how the audience always asks questions about her plots or characters, but never about her choice of language. I purchased a book a few years ago called The Top Ten edited by columnist J. Peder Zane. The book collects responses from a variety of writers about the ten greatest works of fiction. The topic probably proved too broad, like when the Heisman Trophy tries to name the best player in college football. There’s a lot of repetition, such as Anna Karenina making 25 percent of the lists. I wonder if some of the choices aren’t the result of what economists call “signaling.” In other words, I wonder if some of the respondents want to be known by what they read, rather than what they write. An example is Robert B. Parker, creator of the “Spenser” detective novels, whose list appears across from Joyce Carol Oates. I fully expected her to choose titles by Stendhal, James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence. But I was strangely disappointed that Parker chose works by Henry James and John Dos Passos. He did have Hammett and Chandler on his list, but those are acceptable among the literati. Other modern novelists presented lists that lead one to conclude nothing worth reading has been written since the start of World War II. Lolita is the only post-war selection on Bobbie Ann Mason’s list. Chick lit author Jennifer Weiner struck me as one of the most honest contributors. Her list included not only The Stand by Stephen King, but Pearl a novel by his wife, Tabitha. The most interesting list, hands down, was the one across from Weiner’s. David Foster Wallace, the late poster child of literary fiction, submitted the following: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis The Stand by Stephen King Red Dragon by Thomas Harris The Thin Red Line by James Jones Fear of Flying by Erica Jong The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein Fuzz by Ed McBain Alligator by Shelley Katz The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy Maybe I’m misreading the meaning of these lists. Maybe Parker was just naming what he considers the best works of fiction in a traditional sense. And maybe Wallace was making some sort of ironic joke. I still enjoy the idea of a pompous grad student having a minor stroke reading his list, though. * * * * * Once again, Edward, thank you for contributing to 2Blowhards. Later,... posted by Donald at October 21, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

N.C. Wyeth: A Close-Up View
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you ever had the opportunity to examine original illustration art by N.C. Wyeth, one of the most famous American illustrators of the early 20th century? You probably have that opportunity if you live in the Philadelphia-Wilmington region because Wilmington's Delaware Art Museum and the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania have examples of his paintings. For those who haven't seen a Wyeth "up close and personal," it can kinda sorta be done on this here Internet thingy! The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in far-off Cody, Wyoming devotes a wing to the Guggenheim Gallery of Western Art which has a few N.C. Wyeth items in its collection. Better yet, the museum's web site allows viewers to examine paintings in detail. Of course it's not the same thing as seeing a painting in person, but the results aren't bad at all, as I can attest -- having visited the museum recently. Here is a circa-1911 Wyeth painting of men encountering a bear; it later was art for a Remington Arms advertisement. Click on the link and wait for a few seconds, as the image will take a little while to build. Once it's in place you can enlarge it considerably and move the image frame around to suit your interest. If you're curious about Wyeth's work from his prime years (roughly 1905-1920, in my opinion), you can zoom in close enough to view small areas of color. And, like me, you will probably notice that areas that generally appear "warm" (reds, oranges, yellows, etc.) have bits of "cool" (blues, violets, blue-greens) colors visible. The reverse is true for cool areas. Also check out the brushwork on the foreground hunter's boots. This can be a real educational opportunity for those who are interested in the craft of painting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 20, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, October 19, 2009

Euphony and the Art of Writing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The subject of this post is euphony and the writer is a man who deals with it professionally. He's Charlton Griffin, a long-time 2Blowhards reader who creates audiobooks for a living (the link contains interesting biographical information). Our founder, Michael Blowhard, is a huge fan of Charlton's work, a catalog of which is here. (Don't forget to check out links at the top of the page that lead to much more than the short story selections shown.) I'm utterly hapless behind a microphone, even when trying to record those "we're not here" messages for voicemail. So I found Charlton's peek behind the audiobook curtain fascinating; don't miss his takes on which authors do and don't make for easy reading. * * * * * "[A]greeableness of sound; pleasing effect to the ear, esp. a pleasant sounding or harmonious combination or succession of words: the majestic euphony of Milton's poetry." In my experience, very few persons have ever expressed an opinion on the way literature sounds. Since most of us read silently, it would seem to be a moot point. But it is not. Because my daily bread is earned as a narrator, I have to give voice to books. It can be an arduous affair sometimes. Of all the qualities good writing possesses, I suppose euphony is the least understood and least important. Lucidity, simplicity and euphony were always the holy trinity of writing to Somerset Maugham. Like many great writers, he read his work aloud before he put his pen aside for the day. Don't you wish all writers would do this? Why on earth do some writers insist on linking up a long series of words that begin and end in difficult consonants? Or trip you up with a series of dependent clauses that leave you gasping for intellectual air? If you can't read a sentence aloud without contorting your face or stumbling around to find the right place for emphasis, there is a problem. It is my opinion that the best writers are the ones whose works can be enjoyed audibly. I don't say this because I think their works ought to be enjoyed aloud. But it is in the vocal realm that language meets its sternest tests. A book can be lucid, and yet lose the reader because its sentence structure is so complex that the mind begins to wander. Think of those wonderfully logical college textbooks you struggled through. Can't get any more lucid than Plato, for example. Unfortunately, by piling one idea upon another in unending cascades, this kind of writing can sometimes require superhuman concentration after more than a few pages. Adding euphony to this process would probably not advance its ability to engage. Simplicity is always to be desired. This assumes that you have something interesting to write about. Simplicity linked with inanity is devastating. But if your thinking process is such that you find it necessary to express complex ideas in an obscure manner, you... posted by Donald at October 19, 2009 | perma-link | (16) comments