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  1. Destination Pasadena
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Art, Architecture, the Econ of Art



Saturday, January 16, 2010


Destination Pasadena
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If your scene is hyper, with-it Los Angeles or New York City, "little old lady" style Pasadena, California might not fit your tastes. The town has been a genteel island in the Southern California frenzy since the San Gabriel Mountains were raised, or something like that. Consider the college scene. No ultra-lefty Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and that ilk. No jock-focused USC vibes. Just good ol' nose-to-the-computer Cal Tech in this neck of the former lemon and orange groves. And of course the Old Money. Or archeological evidence thereof, the subject of this post. If you are an architecture buff, those remains might well be worth a Pasadena visit. Speaking of visit, one architectural gem that can be toured is the Gamble House, the winter get-away-from-Cincinnati residence of Gambles of Proctor & Gamble fame. The house is now jointly owned by the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena; the house web site is here. Gamble House We took the one-hour overview tour, but more detailed tours are also available to suit intensity of specialization of interest (there's one for woodworkers, for instance). The Gamble House is one of the finest achievements of famed Arts & Crafts architects Green and Green. Many years ago I was in Pasadena for a Rose Bowl game where the University of Washington was playing. On our way from the Rose Parade route to the bowl, we must have passed by the Gamble House (still in Gamble hands then). It failed to register, perhaps because its architecture was not fashionable and probably ignored by my architecture history professor. A block or two farther down the hill to the Arroyo Seco, a house partly hidden by vegetation caught my eye. It was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. One from his Imperial Hotel (Tokyo) - cement-block (Callifornia) period. Millard House I immediately recognized it as the Millard House. Earlier this week I tracked it down again, not having seen it in 50 years (literally!). It's still there, the grounds even more overgrown. One of the staff up at the Gamble House said that the Millard was still privately owned, but was up for sale for a lot of money. Its fate will be determined. In the meanwhile, if you have the address (645 Prospect Crescent) and a street map showing Pasadena, you can inspect it from its street address side just off Prospect Boulevard (up close, but not so interesting) or from the other end of the property through a wire fence on Rosemont Avenue. Not many towns besides Pasadena can boast such residential architecture treasures in such proximity, though Oak Park, Illinois comes to mind. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 16, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A Cream-Pie for Rembrandt's Face?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This article in the Los Angeles Times (7 January, page D8) informs us that there's an art blog that spoofs paintings by posting alternative captions. It's called That is Priceless, and a link is here. Writer David Ng reports: [The blog] was launched in November by L.A.-based television comedy writer and producer Steve Melcher. Once a day, Melcher spotlights a well-known work of art -- usually a painting -- and gives it an alternate title. ... Since November, Melcher has clocked in about one post per day. He said he chooses works that tell a clear story: "I don't do too much abstract or Impressionist art because readers will have to stop to figure out what the painting is showing. I love Dutch art -- they always have silly things going on in their paintings." The writer said he often tries to tie a painting to recent news, a holiday or a pop culture event. I think it's a cute concept. But I didn't find the revised captions near the top of the stack as of this morning especially side-splitting. Of course, Melcher is a TV writer and I'm totally unplugged from the current scene thereabouts, so my reaction might be because I'm out of touch. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 13, 2010 | perma-link | (1) comments





Monday, January 11, 2010


LACMA Report
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Still in the Los Angeles area, still hitting museums. Saturday, we visited the Getty Villa, a modern version of what was in Pompeii, containing examples of ancient art. It's literally a long stone's throw from where we're staying. Problem is, it takes me a real effort to pay much attention to art from Greco-Roman times. The likely reason is that I'm most interested in arts that I can actually do, and sculpture (which is mostly what survived) is something I did little of. Today I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). With a director committed to modernism as well as the new building housing the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, it's not a place to see much pre-20th century painting. Actually, LACMA does have a number of good non-modernist works, but they're not emphasized. For example, their European Art collection is on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building (but the gallery's closed for renovation) and the modernist stuff is on the 2nd floor plaza entry level. Non-modernist American art is also on a third floor, that in the Art of the Americas Building; the main floor is reserved for special exhibits -- something about Persian rugs, currently, I think. This means you have to work harder to view traditional art than modernist art. The American Art galleries were open and I was able to check things out. There were nice examples of arts 'n' crafts furniture, a few California Impressionist paintings and an obligatory John Singer Sargent portrait. Also I spied a small portrait by Whistler and one by George Bellows that looks as if it might have been done by Robert Henri (no surprise) plus a mother-and-child by Mary Cassatt. What was a pleasant surprise was a large portrait of his wife by John White Alexander (see image below). The painting looks a lot nicer than this reproduction. It's painted thinly -- almost zero impasto -- though much of it is slightly sketchy with obvious brushwork providing a "painterly" effect without heaviness or drama. The plaza level galleries in Ahmanson have plenty of works by modernists of the 1910-1960 era, something useful for students interesting in seeing painting and sculpture by well-known hands. Having pounded on modernism and PoMo plenty on this bytes & pixels station, I'll spare you my reaction to what I saw in these galleries and at the Broad. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 11, 2010 | perma-link | (0)

Friday, January 8, 2010


Elaborate Interiors, Vegas Style
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Important public interior spaces of yore (think railroad stations, opera houses, 1920s movie theaters, large libraries, museums, and so forth) were grand both in size and decor. The advent of modernism along with the decline in the number of skilled craftsmen who could create the architectural details resulted in the current situation where ornamentation is very costly to produce. One place where elaborately ornamented buildings are built is Las Vegas, where billion dollar construction budgets permit it. Not all hotel-casinos go fancy, but several built over the last ten or 15 years offer visual feasts. Below are some photos of Las Vegas interiors I took in November. New York, New York As a warm-up, here's what can happen in a strongly "themed" casino -- in this case, a purported New York City street. Paris Okay, one more before we get to architectural detail and interior decoration. The Paris casino tries to a create Parisian atmosphere. MGM Grand Some shopping and restaurant areas in the MGM Grand are starkly modernist. But part was designed to evoke elaborate movies houses of the past as can be seen here. Bellagio Parts of the Bellagio are done in Italian galleria style. Caesar's Palace Just inside the Vegas Strip entrance to the shops area is this view, if you choose to look up. Venetian And if you look up here and there in the Venetian, you might spy more than a few ceiling paintings such as this one. This Venetian hallway leads from the casino floor to the hotel lobby ... ... here. Palazzo The new Palazzo is attached to the Venetian. Here is one of the entry areas. The dark, twisty object by the statuary is some seasonal decoration. This is the gallery in Palazzo's shopping area. Wynn Steve Wynn created the Bellagio and then went on to build the hotel-casino he modestly named after himself. Perhaps that's why there is a touch of galleria in the main shopping section. This is just beyond the shopping. Outside is a pool and (not seen here) a waterfall, inside are escalators and a bar on the lower floor. Encore On the same grounds as the Wynn is Wynn's latest -- the Encore. Shown is a hallway near shops. Note the butterfly theme found over much of the public areas. A bit of Encore interior decoration to close our show. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 8, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments





Monday, January 4, 2010


And Then There's the Huntington
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As promised, blogging has been a bit light lately because we're house-sitting in the Los Angeles area -- a little patch of Los Angeles County that intrudes between Pacific Palisades and the Malibu city limits. We're pretty well situated for seeing a number of interesting places, but there's no avoiding taking to the freeways to travel to sites deemed worth the hassle. Yesterday, it was Long Beach and the Queen Mary ocean liner which has been docked there for more than 40 years. Today we ventured to the Pasadena-San Marino area and the Huntington Library. As that Wikipedia link indicates, besides a research library crammed with rare books and related items, there are gardens and three art museum buildings. The link to the art is here; drill down for information on the collections. Although I had heard of the Huntington (and was even reminded of it in a comment to one of my posts here), I never had a clear picture of what it is. Therefore, I was amazed at what I found in the buildings devoted to European and American art. For instance there were scads (a term of precision measurement, I assure you) of portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds including an iconic Dr Samuel Johnson, and darn near as many by Thomas Gainsborough, including his famous "Blue Boy." Not to mention other portraits by Thomas Lawrence, John Singer Sargent (including a fabulous, flashy one of Pauline Astor), George Romney, William Hogarth, Henry Raeburn (a personal favorite), Cecilia Beaux, Robert Henri and George Bellows. Interior decoration fans might like seeing displays of furnishings from a Green & Green house, Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, patterns by William Morris' shop and stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones. Why wasn't I as familiar with the Huntington as I should have been? No doubt it has to do with the fact that late-18th and early 19th century British portrait painting hasn't been a hot art topic for a long time. I'm pretty sure I saw Blue Boy in my college art history class, but the instructor was in a big rush to go on to Turner, Ryder and the French Impressionists. Too bad for me. I should have experienced the Huntington years ago. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 4, 2010 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Las Vegas High-Rising
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- CityCenter from across Bellagio pool The huge Las Vegas project CenterCity began opening a few days after I left town in late November. (My timing is always bad: the Wynn and Palazzo hotel-casinos also opened not long after previous visits.) But David Littlejohn, a west coast Wall Street Journal stringer was there in its early days and reported his reactions here. Unfortunately for me, Littlejohn's architectural tastes and mine aren't in synch. For example, he liked the Rem Koolhaas Seattle Public Library main branch building, a structure I consider a disaster in nearly every respect. One feature of CityCenter is that a group of starchitects was hired to do design duties, presumably in the high hope that the result would be a triumphal jewel in the crown of American artistic civilization. Unfortunately, I found CenterCity (or what I could see of it from outside construction barriers) to be a resounding modernist/postmodern banality, hardly in keeping with the wild, showy Las Vegas spirit. Below are a few of my snapshots. Claes Oldenburg giant eraser in its wrappings This is the third eraser I've stumbled across: one was encountered in Seattle, another on the Mall in Washington, DC. Note the passenger train car in the background, part of an inter-casino line. Since I couldn't enter the project, I'm not sure what this building is. But it's mostly an example of the "honest" modernism I was lectured about in my architectural history class in college. What you see is essentially a rectangular shaft, slightly beveled near the top, with a modest cap. The "decoration" or visual interest is provided by endlessly repeated balcony bands. I do not know what starchitect was responsible for this aesthetic marvel. Paris casino and hotel Up the street is this example of the "dishonest" architecture I was taught to despise. In Vegas one has to suffer from this sort of stuff. If Frank Gehry were dead, he'd be rolling in his grave at the though of such architecture. Veer Towers by Helmut Jahn That Jahn team sure must be a bunch of wild and craaazy guys! Man, do they have the LV spirit. Formula: start with a rectangular shaft (see above), toss in some cantilevering and surface color changes, and you have postmodernism for the Strip, right? Sadly, I probably won't be back to Vegas until next fall, so my evaluation of CityCenter interiors will have to wait. And perhaps by then the reaction of the Las Vegas-going public to CenterCity will have become more clear. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 29, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Saturday, December 19, 2009


Over-Theorized Design
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the more interesting studies of automotive styling is this 1988 book by C. Edson Armi. One chapter dealt with an interview with a stylist whose name was not familiar to me -- Bill Porter of General Motors. Apparently Poster is respected in his industry. He was responsible for the early 1970s Pontiac Firebird and the 1985 Buick Electra and was involved in other designs during his career. A fairly recent article dealing in part with Porter is here. Unfinished rendering by Bill Porter Below is material from the book. In his search for a unique direction derived from an American tradition, Porter developed [General Motors styling Vice President Harley] Earl's orthographic and highlight system to create a new system of "power bulges" based on conic sections. He was searching for "fullness that is muscular" .... Porter sought to expand Harley Earl's curvilinear vocabulary in complicated new directions. [This for the Firebird, in contrast to the prevailing Bill Mitchell hard-edge styling formula for GM cars.] [p. 95] Porter created his own dynamic movement by implying a single monocoque shell but by varying the conic sections infinitely. This play-off he describes as "unity-yet-difference" between the upper and lower body sections. On the one hand, "the curvature of the very leading edge of the roof just above the windshield, if continued forward, would not flow down to become the windshield surface but would arc out over it, forming an imaginary bubble that would reconnect with the cowl surface." On the other hand, the "bubble" suggests independent variation within itself: "The curved cone" of the roof " gets wider and wider as it goes back, until it curves down and passes alongside the rear window, where it flattens way out until it curves down to fuse with the lower. Think of it sort of as a thin shell that, while structural, is like a cape unfurling. It is as if the cape were held by the front edge and unfurls to the rear, imparting a subliminal sense of something having been affected by motion." Porter also speaks about stretching the monocoque into the lower by means of barely perceptively changing curved sections that he extended through the front and rear fenders. He intended for the radii changes to be simultaneously subtle and repetition -- to be as much felt as understood ... [pp. 95-6] Car designers are almost always car crazy, in a positive sense, but very few who reach the top have any awareness of the other arts. Not only is Porter aware of the history of modern design and of the place of cars in it, but he also talks about his designs with the vocabulary usually reserved for painting, sculpture, and architecture. Porter earned a degree in painting from the University of Louisville.... [p. 255] He searches for added visual complexity, having discovered during the sixties "a richer vocabulary' based on subtly changing conic sections. Especially important to him are the aesthetics of... posted by Donald at December 19, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Friday, December 18, 2009


The Role of the Art Museum is ...?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What is an art museum for? The potential answers to that question can be framed in terms of, among other things, comprehensiveness and specialization. The notion behind being comprehensive is that the museum should serve its home area by providing examples of many kinds of art from many places and eras. From this, the public in general and art students in particular can view a large variety of works of art in person, rather than vicariously via photographic images of the original objects. For example, such images never quite convey the nature of brushwork in paintings; it's very helpful to see the original painting if one wishes a good understanding of it. Specialization is a concept bearing a twinge of elitism, snobbery and competitive triumphalism. (These can be good things, despite their bad reputation in common usage. It depends on the circumstances.) The result for a museum taking this path is that it can claim a "world-class collection of Ming Dynasty vases," "the largest assemblage of paintings by Vermeer" or some other bragging right. A prime example of a specialized museum is New York's Museum of Modern Art. Buffalo's Albert-Knox Art Gallery has been in the news because it is deaccessioning parts of its collection to raise money to buy contemporary art. I think this is okay, but only where there are plenty of other decent art museums nearby. This is the case in New York, London, Paris and even smaller places such as San Francisco. If yours is the main museum in town, I'm not so sure it's wise to specialize. Consider the Honolulu Academy of Arts, housed in a fine old building designed by noted architect Bertram Goodhue. Honolulu was a pretty small place until 30 or 40 years ago. There is an art museum operated by the state, but not a lot else. Plus, the Academy has art classes as part of its program. The result is that the Academy displays a small, but pretty comprehensive assortment of paintings. As best I can tell, none of the Western ones fall into the Masterpiece category. But they do offer the student and the interested viewer a useful spectrum of original works. When I visited the museum earlier this month, I noted paintings by the following artists: Raeburn, Thomas Lawrence, Romney, Boucher, Gauguin, Bonnard, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Redon, Delacroix, Courbet, Pissarro, Monet, Picasso and Braque. There were others, but I failed to jot down their names -- there might have been a Modigliani, for instance. A small museum doing a nice job. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 18, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments





Tuesday, December 8, 2009


A Gehry Encore En-Corpse
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's in Las Vegas. I drove past it a couple of weeks ago. And what is it? Architect Frank Gehry's latest, an institute dealing with brain disease; more info here, and a wordless take by John Massengale here. There's one thing about the structure that makes me curious: what will the interior be like once it opens for business. Gehry, in my judgment has become the sorry victim of his apparent compulsion to be "creative" at all costs. This architect needs help or, failing that, instant retirement before he does more visual damage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 8, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments





Sunday, December 6, 2009


Vanished Buildings Seen
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are a few benefits of getting older, but not all that many. One can be a pretty good degree of savoir-faire in the literal sense of knowing how to function in the world; it's the obverse of being a teenager. Another is the bragging rights (such as they are) of saying that one has seen certain sights that are impossible for younger folk to view. I was having coffee yesterday with a 2Blowhards commenter and we yakked about Japan. Afterward, it popped into my head that I should have mentioned having seen a certain building during my hikes around Tokyo many years ago. Expanding on that, herewith are three important buildings I've viewed that haven't existed for more than 40 years. Gallery Pennsylvania Station - New York - waiting room A Pennsylvania Station remains, but it's what was left after the above-ground part of the original building was scraped off. I was there in the early 1960s when it was a lot dingier than the early photo above indicates. As a result, at the time I didn't appreciate it as much as I suppose I should have. That's how things go sometimes. Singer Building - New York Little known today, the Singer Building was, briefly, the tallest building in the world. It had an odd, bulged top that was distinctive, if not exactly distinguished. Again, I saw it during its final years and it simply struck me as being old and funny looking. Now I wonder how it might look had it been preserved and restored to a bright, shiny state. Imperial Hotel - Tokyo - by Frank Lloyd Wright This famous Wright building definitely attracted my attention and I tried to walk through it whenever I was in its neighborhood -- across the street from MacArthur's former Dai-Ichi headquarters and across the moat from the Imperial Palace where Hirohito hung his hat. I felt its loss far more than the other two. Even in this age of historical preservation, some architecturally important buildings don't survive. Readers are welcome to chime in about missing ones that they've witnessed. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 6, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments





Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Satisfying Painting at Pebble Beach
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little while ago I wrote about what I called "satisfying paintings" -- works that were nicely done and that are a pleasure to view. And a few years ago I wrote about Pebble Beach and posted the following photo of the lounge at The Lodge at Pebble Beach (which overlooks the famous 18th hole). Lounge, The Lodge at Pebble Beach Note the painting on the back wall. It's one of several in the Lodge. The artist is Jerry Van Megert (b. 1938). I haven't found much about him other than he was originally from Oregon and does portraits as well as California coastal scenes such as those on display at Pebble Beach. Here is a slightly cropped photo of the painting noted above. The original is quite large, but my photo for once conveys a pretty good sense of it. I'd like to show more works by Van Megert, but information about him on the Web is sparse indeed, if my Google and Bing searches are any guide. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 17, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Monday, November 16, 2009


Neiman's Interior Space
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My gut reaction is that modernist architecture is often ill at ease with grand spaces. Sure, it's easy to whip out t-square, triangle or architectural design software and simply specify a space for contractors and workers to actualize. The tricky bit, so far as modernists go, is humanizing such spaces. That requires making use of (ugh!!) decorative elements. One solution is to combine modernism with explicitly classical details. Consider the restaurant and entrance atrium of Neiman Marcus' store by Union Square in San Francisco. Here are photos I took a few weeks ago: Restaurant level Looking down at entrance by Union Square The site of Neiman Marcus for many years was the location of the City of Paris store that eventually became cited as an architectural landmark (details here). After City of Paris closed, Neiman Marcus razed the structure and replaced it with the present building. The centerpiece of the City of Paris was a dome with a glass image of a sailing ship, and this was restored and incorporated in the corner of the new building facing Union Square. It can be seen in the top photo, above. As the lower photo indicates, classical details are included at various levels of the atrium. Although I remember seeing the City of Paris building, I can't recall having been in it. So I have no opinion regarding whether or not it should have been preserved. The Neiman Marcus building is blah on the outside and okay-retail-space inside. Except for the Union Square corner shown above. That bit I like a lot. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 16, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Thursday, November 12, 2009


Sacred Art Rumblings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- 2Blowhards friend Nikos Salingaros alerts me that there has been issued "an appeal for the Catholic Church to return to human and spiritual values in its art and architecture. If it works it will be a revolution, since the Catholic Church is a big sponsor of the Arts. It might also shake up the nihilistic cult that now controls the Arts." An article describing the situation is here. And a website Nikos linked to in his email is here. Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to meet with artists on 21 November, and the appeal was issued with that meeting in mind. I'm not familiar with the current state of sacred art, but gather from Nikos' email that it might have slid into the postmodernism we see daily in venues from art galleries to magazine illustrations. At any rate, I'm not sure what to make of this given that we are more than a week away from the meeting and Benedict either will or won't heed the appeal. And should he heed it, there is a question of whether he will heed some or all of the points it makes. Should Benedict decide to become involved with the matter of sacred art, I suspect there will be a large outcry from many corners of the art community. And given the recent history of hostility to the Roman Catholic Church by news media, I further suspect that coverage of the Pope's actions will be pretty negative. So we shall see what 21 November brings: nothing, a media firestorm, or "something completely different" as the Monty Python troupe would put it. As for me, I think the Church has every right to do what it wishes regarding its art even though the process might prove to be a public relations problem. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 12, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments





Friday, October 30, 2009


American "Orientalism"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noted in some previous posts that I visited the Guggenheim Gallery of Western Art, part of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming in September. It's an impressive complex in what is considered the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Its Web site is here, and an article about its recent re-installation is here (caution: this page might take a while to appear). No surprise, what ties all the paintings and sculptures together thematically is the West -- that generally dry part of America extending from about the 100th meridian west to the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. Subject matter is landscapes, explorers, white settlers, the U.S. Cavalry, cowboys and other subjects. A major subject of Western artists from Montana to Arizona is American Indians. Below is a painting in the Guggenheim's collection. "Contemporary Sioux Indian" by James Bama - 1978 I wrote about Bama here. He was a Brooklyn kid who had good success as a commercial illustrator in New York. In the 1960s he pulled up stakes and went to the Cody area where he transformed himself into a Western artist. (Some illustrators made similar transformations when the market for magazine illustration dried up; others moved to portraiture and other fine arts areas.) Recently it suddenly dawned on me that the fascination American Indians hold for some American artists is similar to that of Orientalism for Europeans. As this Wikipedia entry demonstrates, the term "Orientalism" has different meanings to different observers. For our purposes, I'll restrict it to the label applied to a painting genre popular in the 19th century and a while beyond. From Napoleon's invasion of Egypt until the French gained control of Morocco, Europe became increasingly involved in affairs of North Africa and the Near East, ultimately controlling all that territory save post-Great War Turkey. In the wake of diplomats, businessmen, gunboats, European pashas and colonial administrators came artists who painted scenes of souks, harems, oases and whatever else struck their fancies. For example, a major artist who devoted a large share of his output to Orientalist subjects was Jean-Léon Gérôme. Some people become greatly fascinated with other cultures, though usually not to the point where they "go native." Gérôme and his friends would happily scoot off to Algiers or Egypt for months at a time but always returned to the comforts and pleasures of Paris. One reason they fixed on North Africa and the Near East was because those areas were indeed near. China was out there and so were India and Japan. A few European painters traveled to those countries in search of exotic subject-matter; but the exotica of the Orientalists was closer at hand. Given this, I'll hypothesize that American artists attracted to different cultures don't need to undergo the hassle and expense of flying off to Bali, Bhutan or Bangkok to find exotic subjects. All they need do is move to Great Falls, Cody, Taos, Sedona and similar places to paint the... posted by Donald at October 30, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





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





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 12, 2009


WSJ Reviews Industrial Design Books
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I entered college as an Industrial Design major (later switching to Commercial Art), but don't follow the field especially closely. Its exciting days of legitimacy-seeking and eventual acceptance are long past. Even so, I was interested when I spied "The Shape of Things to Come," a book review article by David A. Price in the 9 October edition of The Wall Street Journal (a link is here). Price covers three books dealing with industrial design and product innovation. The first is by Tim Brown (the CEO of the IDEO firm) with the title "Change by Design". Among Price's comments are: Mr. Brown also argues for companies to become more designer-like by increasing their use of prototypes to test ideas. Prototypes, even quick-and-dirty ones, shed light on how a concept will meet real-world needs. He recounts IDEO going so far as to mock-up an entire hotel lobby and guest suite to help Marriott ponder the needs of extended-stay business travelers. Mr. Brown argues even more emphatically for the close observation of users in their natural habitats. Traditional market-research tools—focus groups, surveys -- rarely produce breakthrough findings, he claims. IDEO and others follow users around -- making video recordings of them as they go about their routines, recording conversations with them—to build an understanding of what they really need. Hate to mention it, but these practices are nearly as old as the industrial design hills. I happen to be re-reading industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss' classic book "Designing for People" (first published in 1955) and he deals with these very topics of prototyping and field research in chapters three and four. The second book reviewed is by Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design (yes, that's "frog design" -- all lower case) whose book is "A Fine Line". The frog design firm is perhaps best known for its work for Apple and its design perfectionist leader Steve Jobs. Price dismisses much of the book as self-promotion, but allows that: Eventually, though, Mr. Esslinger sets out some provocative ideas. He thinks electronics products like mobile phones, cameras and medical sensors should have modular, open architectures -- like the cards that plug into desktop personal computers -- allowing customers to pick the sub-assemblies they need. Agreed, that is an interesting idea. My cell phone and digital camera each have scads of features I'll never use, a factor in complicating their operation. The third review deals with Roberto Verganti's "Design-Driven Innovation" . Roberto Verganti holds that product development should be grounded not in the data of survey-takers or the observations of anthropologists but in the judgment of executives. "We have experienced years of hype about user-centered design," he says. But breakthrough innovations, in Mr. Verganti's view, do not represent what customers knew they wanted. Rather, the most profitable innovations are those that create a radically new meaning for a product. ... Mr. Verganti suggests that companies form relationships with "interpreters" -- individuals and organizations looking at settings similar to the one... posted by Donald at October 12, 2009 | perma-link | (0)

Friday, October 9, 2009


Scraping Sky or Scraping Bottom?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's time for me to start picking up the architectural slack now that Michael is a part-time blogger. Therefore, I give you Jean Nouvel -- please! Nouvel is is a French architect who has been awarded the Pritzker Prize (in 2008). Last year it was announced that he would be architect for an Eiffel Tower sized skyscraper in Paris' close-by La Défense district. Then there's a proposed 75-story (or maybe 82 or even 85 story -- read here) building he's designing to fit just west of New York's Museum of Modern Art (a favorable article about the project is here, another take is here.) Apparently, enough people have reacted in horror that the City Planning Commission voted to chop 200 feet off its top. I like tall buildings, if they're done right -- as was often the case in the 1920s and early 30s. I don't know enough about the proposed Midtown spire to form a strong opinion, but its neighborhood already has plenty of tall buildings of questionable aesthetic quality, so what's wrong with dumping yet another into the mix? Actually, my main reservation is that it might be a little too close for comfort to the old RCA Building in Radio City (I love using those archaic names!). The proposed Paris skyscraper strikes me as being a huge mistake. The city already has the despised Tour Montparnasse. Existing La Défense high-rises are not terribly obtrusive, but something about as tall as the Eiffel Tower would be as unsightly as the Montparnasse structure. I haven't heard if the Paris building is still set for construction; when I was in town in May, I saw no sign of it. Better-informed readers are encouraged to bring us up to date in Comments. Your opinions on both projects as well as about the issue of tall buildings in general are also welcome. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 9, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments





Thursday, October 1, 2009


Satisfying Paintings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not all paintings need be Significant or Provocative, Disturbing, Edgy or other criteria of Importance that might come to mind. As the title of this piece suggests, paintings might be satisfying -- and I see nothing intrinsically wrong with that role. Given their content, still life paintings have an opportunity to be satisfying (however, objects portrayed might conform to the overtly Provocative-Disturbing-Edgy categories noted above). Even more likely to result in soothing, satisfying results are landscape paintings. I'm not a huge landscape fan, but I've been noticing that contemporary artists are cranking out works that I would be tempted to buy (if I had the money) and hang on my wall. Overpass (print) - Marc Bohne Above is an image of a commercial print taken from a painting by Marc Bohne. It seems that his studio is about four miles from where I live, in a converted elementary school where my mother once taught. As it happens, I've never met Bohne, whose web site is here. The above image does no justice even to the poster, let alone the painting. Some objects appear to be painted in a hard-edge style but in fact are a little fuzzy and painterly; you'll just have to track down a full-sized version to discover what I'm talking about. I discovered the print in the waiting area of the eye clinic I go to. Admittedly, waiting for 15 or 20 minutes after your appointment time to be called in for your examination can put your mind in semi-suspended animation, a dreamy state. Nevertheless, the print never fails to fascinate me. The version I see has the caption at the bottom as well as border areas of the image cropped off (the sky cropping improves the result, I think). The coloring is realistic as are details such as the partly-submerged furrows in the foreground -- something common in the fall here in western Washington. The composition is strong, yet intriguing. Much of it converges towards a focal point, yet there is no special focal object -- just a dark clump of trees. Arques-la-Bataille - John Henry Twachtman - 1885 In some respect, it reminds me of the Twachtman painting above, which hangs (well, it did the last time I was there) in the Metropolitan Museum or Art in New York. Although it doesn't show well in the reproduction, this painting has (for Twachtman) a strong composition using horizontals and slants. In those respects, Bohne's painting echoes it. Another artist whose work I've noticed recently is Romona Youngquist whose paintings can be found in an Eastside gallery hereabouts and elsewhere. Her page on the gallery's site is here; scroll to the bottom for biographical information. Below are example paintings also shown in the above link. The titles are ho-hum, but the works themselves are -- guess what? -- satisfying when seen in person. Sweet Summertime Endless Summer Changing Season What I find a little bit interesting is the similarity of results... posted by Donald at October 1, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments





Monday, September 28, 2009


Sixth Avenue, Remembered
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Aging cusses such as me won't be around forever. That's why I like to post How It Was articles here from time to time. Just for the record, understand. [Clears throat, fiddles with notes, casually leans on lectern] Today's subject is New York City's Sixth Avenue, alias Avenue of the Americas (you can read about the name business along with other info here). As this Wikipedia entry indicates, Sixth Avenue was the site of an elevated railroad from the late 1870s to the late 1930s, when it was replaced by a subway line. Sorry to report that I wasn't around during the "El" era, so I can't categorically assert that the street level was a typical "almost dead" retail zone found below elevated lines. But it probably was. When I first saw it in the mid 1950s, the classiest frontage was that of the Radio City Music Hall on the backside of Rockefeller Center. There might have been one or two other theaters nearby, fronting on side streets. In 1962 I was stationed in the Army just outside the city and got into town almost every weekend from late January till mid May. By that time, Sixth Avenue was entering its great transformation phase. The new Time-Life building (the second in a continuing series of Time structures) across Sixth from Rockefeller Center had been completed. At the time, much was made of the claim that it was really part of the Center. Technically (or legally) that might have been so. But to me, at least, it was not part of the center in the sense of its location and its architecture. Time-Life Building - completed 1959 So far as I can tell, the main link of Time-Life to earlier phases of Rockefeller Center is the use of gray stone facing that can be seen in the photo above. But the large window areas and spandrels effectively removed it from the character of the Center's earlier buildings that had narrower windows/spandrels and a touch of Art Deco trim. The rest of Sixth Avenue from 42nd Street to near 57th was in that state of suspended animation found where properties are being or have been assembled for major developments -- in this case, for massive skyscrapers. Shop leases were running out and tenants were beginning to vacate. Maintenance and repairs to existing low-rise masonry buildings were kept to an absolute minimum in anticipation of razing. Aside from Time-Life and the Music Hall, Sixth Avenue was a dreary, ratty zone. I remember that I seldom tarried there when walking west from glitzy Fifth Avenue to the Times Square area bright lights, and ditto when heading east. What many current Manhattanites and visitors probably don't realize is how low-rise Midtown was in the mid 1950s. There were few really tall buildings along Sixth and the Times Square area as well. Park Avenue was lined by moderate-sized masonry-clad buildings, the exceptions being the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the shiny new... posted by Donald at September 28, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Sunday, September 27, 2009


Are Sculptors Long-Lived?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by the self-glorification of certain political personages in Washington, D.C. and some of the manifestations of adoration undertaken by followers, I've been doing some reading about art in 20th century totalitarian countries. A book I just finished is Peter Adam's 1992 Art of the Third Reich. His chapter on German sculptors active in the 1930s caught my attention because of the life-dates he cited for them and a few others whose work influenced them. They are listed below with the approximate age at death in square brackets. (Ages at death are based on subtracting the birth year from the death year. That means some of the cases are overstated by one year. I did this for consistency because I wasn't sure I could easily track down life dates for all the Germans. In any event, the picture presented isn't seriously affected by my shortcut.) Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) [70] Karl Albiker (1878-1961) [83] Arno Breker (1900-1991) [91] Josef Thorak (1889-1952) [63] Adolf Wamper (1901-1977) [76] Kurt Schmid-Elmen (1901-1968) [67] Rudolf Belling (1886-1972) [86] Ernst Barlach (1876-1938) [62] Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) [38] Fritz Klimsch (1870-1960) [90] Richard Scheibe (1879-1964) [85] Josef Wackerie (1880-1959) [79] Bernhard Bleeker (1881-1968) [87] Arnold Waldschmidt (1873-1958) [85] To spice things up, I'll add a few sculptors whose names are familiar to me: Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) [77] Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) [83] Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) [81] Lorado Taft (1860-1936) [76] Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) [59] Paul Manship (1885-1966) [81] Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) [81] Alexander Calder (1898-1976) [78] Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) [65] Seven of the 14 German sculptors lived 80 or more years and so did four of the other nine. The only sculptor following the Caravaggio, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh pattern of dying before age 40 was Lehmbruck. What we have here is nothing more than a factoid, something true so far as it goes. A thorough study of the longevity of sculptors would be grist for, say, a Masters thesis. For example, a universe of sculptors would have to be defined in some measurable way. A basis age would have to be selected so that comparisons with populations at large using mechanisms such as life tables could be made. And so forth. Just for fun, I'll draw a few "conclusions" from the flimsy data shown above. Sculpting didn't seem to be a life-threatening occupation in late-19th century and early-mid 20th century Germany. You'd think that with all the dust, sharp tools, hot metal and the rest of the studio scene, that sculptors could cop an early disability retirement. But apparently not. The non-German group seems to have a somewhat more normal mortality pattern, though the proportion living to 80 is nearly as great. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 27, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Bernie Fuchs, RIP
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bernie Fuchs, one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century, has died at age 76. I wrote about him here. The Washington Post obituary is here. But if you have time to click on only one link, please click here to read what David Apatoff has to say. Apatoff knew Bernie and was present as Fuchs lay dying. Below are two examples of Fuchs' early commercial art. His style evolved away from what you see. Today, these examples probably don't seem exceptional. But when they first appeared, just like the original Star Wars movie, they seemed sensational. I know, because I was was commercial art major in college at the time. Gallo wine advertisement Story illustration When someone like Bernie Fuchs appears on the scene, it makes one believe there's such a thing as genius. Later, Donald UPDATE: For a reaction from a commercial artist who was too young to have experienced Fuchs' initial impact, here are remarks by Leif Peng.... posted by Donald at September 22, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Illustration Art in the Middle of Nowhere
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this in Rapid City, South Dakota. Yesterday we checked out the Badlands and, of course, visited world-famous Wall Drug in the town of Wall which is located near the main western entrance to Badlands National Park. Wall Drug is basically a tourist attraction these days, but originated as a tiny drug store in a small town in the early years of the Great Depression. After a few years of struggle, the druggist and his wife came up the the idea of posting road signs offering free ice water for parched travelers. Business improved immediately. After World War 2, their son aggressively expanded the facility to include food service and sales of all sorts of apparel, trinkets of all kinds and food. Today a visitor still gets his free water and can buy a cup of coffee for five cents! Wall Drug is now a block long and thronged with travelers and stuffed with things to buy. I think it's kinda neat, in its oddball way. Something I didn't notice that last time I was there (in the mid-1970s) was a collection of Western (cowboy and Indian) paintings. It's spread through the various dining areas and includes works by famous illustrators along with paintings by genre specialists and a number of items that seem rather amateurish at first glance. There might be more to the latter than meets the eye -- biographical info about the artist or perhaps some historical significance in the painting's creation. For illustration fans, I noticed original illustration artwork by the following artists, among others: N.C. Wyeth, Harvey Dunn (a South Dakota native son), James Avati, George Rozen (pulp covers) and Harold von Schmidt. Ah, the serendipity of travel! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 15, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Painter of the Indistinct
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few months ago while I was visiting Paris' Musée d'Orsay I noted a few paintings that were drastically different from any of the rest. A glance at the information plaques revealed that they were by Eugène Carrière (1849-1906), whose Wikipedia entry is here. Self-portrait, c.1893 Carrière was born near Paris and raised in Alsace, but left before that area was lost to Germany (he served in the Franco-Prussian war and was taken prisoner, a further war-related humiliation). His art training included the École des Beaux-Arts and study under Alexandre Cabanel. His career began to take hold in the mid-1880s, by which time his subject matter had narrowed to portraiture and domestic scenes, his palette to a very narrow color range and his technique to a generally indistinct effect probably created in part by using a cloth to rub paint off areas of the canvas . One biographical source suggested that the result was so distinctively personal that other painters were hesitant to pursue his lead. Carrière is generally regarded as a Symbolist perhaps because his declarations regarding his art have a misty, spiritual cast. My take, however, is that he was at best a borderline Symbolist; his Symbolism was more atmospheric than actually symbolic. Below is a sampling of his work I found on the Web. Gallery L'enfant malade (The Sick Child) - 1885 Paul Verlaine - 1891 Madame Caerrière Alphonse Daudet and his Daughter Femme en toilette de bal (Woman Preparing for a Ball) The Mothers - 1900 I'm not sure Carrière's paintings can be taken in large doses, though that can be said for many artists. Certainly the works of his that I saw in the Orsay were striking as well as intriguing. If I were filthy rich, I wouldn't mind having a not-so-misty one on a nearby wall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 8, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Monday, September 7, 2009


Whatever Happened to Casein Paints?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Way, way back -- so many years ago the thought scares me -- I was a college student majoring in commercial art. As I ranted here and elsewhere, I didn't learn much in art school. This was because I wasn't taught much; students to too great a degree were expected to discover things on their own -- not an efficient way to learn a trade. Once I reached my Junior year I began taking courses dealing with my major. For a reason I cannot remember, our color work was usually done on illustration board using casein paints. Huh? you ask. What in the world are casein paints? The Wikipedia entry is here. Other links containing useful background information are here and here. Casein paints are a kind of tempera whose medium is milk-based. As the links indicate, the paints have a distinct sweetish smell and dry to a matte finish. You probably haven't seen them in art supply stores for quite a while (if at all), and neither have I. Because I haven't noticed them, I assumed that no one was making them any more. But the next-to-last link indicates otherwise. I recall that I wasn't terribly fond of caseins, but used them because everyone else did. For one thing, the drying paint tended to curl thinner grades of illustration board. And after I painted large, flat areas, the dried result was often blotchy. Thanks to our general lack of instruction about painting of any kind, it's possible that I never figured out how to properly utilize caseins. I suppose I could give them another try, but I don't think I want to spend the time or money. If I ever do decide to fiddle around with opaque water-based paints, I think I'm most likely to give gouache a whirl. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 7, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Friday, September 4, 2009


Pole Dancing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is this Bob Fosse-worthy performance by Australian pole dancer Felix Cane art? Dance? Soft-core porn? Sport? My take: I don't care. I love it, it's amazing, and that's all that really matters to me. Sure is fun to think about the above questions, though. Bonus links: Many more intoxicating performances on video at Felix Cane's website. A "Will porn ever be considered to be art"? yakfest here at 2Blowhards. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments




Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I do love looking through a good artist's sketchbook. (Click on "Sketchbooks.") * An inspiring and impressive collection of iPhone photographs by Flickr members. * iPhone Lomography. * Here's one story I wish I'd been asked to report. * Russian illustrator Evegeny Parfenov does very winning variations on that Soviet-heroism look of the 1920s. * Great big jellyfish. * Here's one of the more effective visual illusions I've ever been dazzled and mystified by. (Link thanks to Bryan) * MBlowhard Rewind: An introduction to the wonderful Canadian artist David Milne. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Monday, August 10, 2009


Terence Cuneo, Literal Artistic Icon
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Continuing the discussion of English illustrators specializing in transportation and military art (I wrote about Frank Wootton here), let's consider Terence Cuneo (1907-1996) whose work was so beloved in some circles that ... Princess Royal unveiling statue of Terence Cuneo in Waterloo Station Cuneo's drawing was more accurate than that of Wootton, but he sometimes got more hard-edge detailing into his paintings than suits my taste. Below are examples of his work beginning with a couple of train paintings -- the genre that led to his Waterloo Station statue. Gallery "Flying Scotsman" Steam engine emerging from shop I think it's a shop and not a train shed, but I might be mistaken. Both paintings avoid the excessive hard detailing I mentioned above. Sir Edward Heath Cuneo also painted portraits. I wonder who selected that blue suit -- the artist or Ted Heath himself. "First Air Post" Like Wootton, Cuneo did airplane illustrations. This depicts final preparations for the initial air mail flight by the RAF from England to the continent in 1918. "The Defense of Calais, 1940" Another Cuneo subject was combat scenes. This shows the British army's Queen Victoria Rifles fighting off German attacks on the Channel port that eventually fell just prior to the Dunkirk evacuations. An account is here. "The Snipe Action" (detail) This is a combat scene probably from the North Africa campaign, 1940-43. The quality of the reproduction isn't good, but offers some idea as to Cuneo's skillful, economical brushwork. "Bentleys at Le Mans, 1929" If Wootton could paint Bentleys (see link above), then Cuneo also could and did. The subject is the Bentley triumphant effort at Le Mans in 1929 where the marque claimed the first four places; race results are here. Cuneo and Wootton were contemporaries and in some respects competitors in that there was a fair amount of overlap in their subject matter. Wootton is best known for his airplanes and Cuneo (in Britain, at least) for his trains. From my standpoint, Cuneo is the better all-rounder thanks to his more accurate drawing, though both created very good paintings that made enjoyable viewing for fans of their genre. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 10, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Monday, August 3, 2009


Frank Wootton: Getting It Almost Right
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This obituary in The Independent contains a line asserting that Frank Wootton (1911-98) "has been called 'probably the finest aviation artist of all time' for his depiction of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and beyond." I'm not sure I concur with that claim even though I've enjoyed Wootton's work since I was high school age or even a bit younger. I have fond memories of leafing through his books "How to Draw 'Planes" and "How to Draw Cars" at the public library. His instructions were pretty skimpy, but the meat of these publications was in the reproductions of his drawings, as we shall see below. I even stumbled on a display of his paintings at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. many years ago. That was long before I renewed my interest in art, so I didn't get as much out of seeing them as I would today. Wootton clearly received solid training in painting, especially having to do with the effects of light, shade and color. What he sometimes lacked was draftsmanship. This is particularly true for his aviation paintings: some aircraft are not correctly proportioned. The Battle of Britain For example, in the painting above, the fighters on the left don't quite look right. My guess is that the wingspan is too great. So some of the time he got things wrong, and other times got them right. I'm supposing that he freehanded planes, striving for effects rather than correct proportions and perspective. Wootton was essentially a commercial illustrator who created artwork for advertising while having a parallel career painting commissioned scenes for the Royal Air Force and organizations with a strong interest in British aviation. He painted landscapes and animals for his own enjoyment. I'm presenting his work here because he was a decent and very popular artist in genres I like. Below are some examples. Gallery Captions are descriptive and not the actual ones. Typhoons at Falaise Gap This is an imaginary scene of retreating German army units being attacked by British fighter-bombers in the aftermath of the Allied invasion of northern France in 1944. Wootton does a nice job of depicting German tanks and other equipment. Douglas Bader bailing out Bader is famous because, even though he lost parts of both legs in a pre-war flying accident, he returned to active duty in World War 2, claiming 22 combat victories. Unfortunately, he was eventually shot down, as the painting shows. But (fortunately) he survived and (unfortunately) spent the rest of the war save a few weeks at the end as a prisoner. Car at train station This drawing is from Wootton's book "How to Draw Cars." It's basically a sketch, an impression of masses defined by light and shade. Very nice. Car poster --> Bentleys Here's an illustration of Bentleys at an old car meet. Because it's necessarily more finished, I find it less satisfying than the train station sketch above. Even though... posted by Donald at August 3, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Sunday, August 2, 2009


My Beemer's Bewildering Cockpit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some views of the options that my rental Beemer's steering wheel and stalks present: What an excess of bewildering-icon riches, eh? I suspect that somewhere in that thicket of clickers is a button that will take care of paying my electricity bill, and another that will set my DVR to record "American Idol." But which is which? Hey: Of the pictured absurdly-illegible icons, which is your favorite? I'm still trying to choose between (top pic) the "P" that appears to be shouting and (bottom pic) the sorta-clock that seems to be stuck at 11:30. Needless to say: After three weeks of using the car, I'm still iffy where basic turn-signaling and windshield-wiping go. My fault? Or BMW's? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments





Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Impressionist Rule-Breakers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's the saying "Rules are made to be broken." It neglects to mention that it might be helpful to keep consequences in mind when considering breaking a rule. In painting, consequences can be hard to pin down. Breaking a painting rule might mean -- depending upon which rule it is -- (1) the result will be ugly or odd and the work won't sell, (2) the painting's surface might crack or flake as it ages, or (3) it will be hailed as a courageous, innovative masterpiece. In most cases, painting rules are bent, not broken, and the result isn't especially noticeable. These tend to be cases where the artist isn't paying total attention to what he's doing. But there are times when they are consciously broken if the artist seeks an effect he especially desires. Below are featured two well-known Impressionist paintings containing a violation or two of composition rules. My guess is that the artists weren't paying as much attention to composition as they might have. But it doesn't seem to matter because both paintings are very popular despite technical quibbles. "Girls With a Watering Can" - Auguste Renoir, 1876 Information about this painting can be found here. What's wrong with it? First, the girl is facing to our right and is also centered to the right; compare the distance from a point midway between her eyes to the right and left edges. According to a composition rule, she ought to have been placed left of center so that she would be facing a wider area of canvas. It's a question of visual balance. Given that imbalance, Renoir might have helped matters by placing a tall, narrow object of some sort at the right edge so as to block the passage of a viewer's eyes as they follow the gaze of the subject off-canvas. That would be the schoolbook solution anyway, though there really isn't much room for such a visual barrier. But Renoir helped retrieve things by placing a patch of flowering plants below and to our left of the girl. This creates an upper-right to lower-left diagonal from her head to the flowers, thus restraining eye movement to the right. Axes of the lawn edges to the right of her enhance this diagonal force. "Poppies Near Argenteuil" - Claude Monet, 1873 The Musée d'Orsay web page on this painting is here; it contains only data of various kinds. I might mention that there seems to be no settled English version of the title. One potential problem is that Monet divided the scene into two nearly equal areas, the sky and the ground. (Even splits are not recommended, though Caillebotte once famously got away with it.) The ground area is slightly dominant and the dark trees along the hilltop reduce the sky area some and help the balance. And then there's that odd, oddly-placed tree with the round ball of leaves jutting above the rest and into the sky. Did Monet add... posted by Donald at July 21, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, July 17, 2009


Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As is the case in some other parts of the country, Washington state has put considerable effort into legislating and regulating urban growth. In Seattle, zoning revisions for certain areas allow as many as four housing units to replace a single unit. Last Sunday, the Seattle Times' magazine "Pacific Northwest" dealt with the matter. A link to the article is here. I won't extract from the text, simply noting that its treatment was reasonably fair. My main interest is presenting some of the photos from the piece for your evaluation. (The Times describes the writer and photographer as follows: "William Dietrich is a former Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.") The article deals with, among other things, problems faced by architects working on new high-density single-family and townhouse housing. Presumably the examples I show below are considered to be some of the better fruit of the enforcement of higher density standards. Gallery Judkins Park house of David Sarti A detached dwelling in what seems to have been a back yard. Urban Canyon project - street view Urban Canyon project - court view Urban Canyon project - view from on top Boulders project - court view Boulders project - interior The house I grew up in was on a lot with perhaps a 70 foot frontage and 120 feet of depth. Where I live now is situated on a pie-shaped lot that probably has less acreage, but still plenty of elbow room. I lived nearly 30 years in a house on a third of an acre lot in Olympia, Washington. About nine years were spent in apartments, mostly of the garden variety. Then there were nearly three years in Army barracks. So I'm prejudiced in favor of traditional quasi-suburban housing. That means I wouldn't be hot to move into any of the units illustrated above unless circumstanced dictated it. Mind you, they aren't seriously bad, aside from that former-backyard house -- though I hate the newly-pervasive "industrial" exteriors I see on the Urban Canyon units. I guess my main problem is that these squeezed-in dwelling are neither fish nor fowl, as they say. They're not sensible detached housing. Nor are they honest row or courtyard-facing housing. They're an odd breed of "pretend" housing struggling against the dictates of our betters -- politicians and planners. I am sure many of you will disagree in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 17, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments





Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote here about Ken Auster, who paints mostly cityscapes and restaurant and bar scenes. I like his work (with a few reservations), but there's another artist who also does cityscapes that I like even better. I should add that I haven't seen his paintings in person, instead relying on magazines and the Web. That artist is Ben Aronson (b. 1958) who offers this statement about himself on his website. Please read what he has to say before viewing the sampling of paintings below. Gallery La Marais - 2006 This shows a Paris neighborhood that didn't get Haussmann-ized. What I like isn't so much the ambiance, but instead Aronson's treatment of light on the cars. Many of his paintings include cars with the top-lighting afforded by city streets enclosed by high-rise buildings. Paris Morning, Left Bank - 2007 More Paris, more cars; catnip to a Paris-lovin' car lovin' guy like me. Bay Bridge 1 Now to San Francisco, a city depicted in the Gallery section of the posting on Auster. Compare. While both artists treat detail in a sketchy manner, Aronson's paintings tend to have starker value contrasts and stronger composition. Urban Reflections - 2008 And if you haven't caught on yet, all the Aronson paintings shown here have essentially square formats. Gustav Klimt did the same when painting landscapes. Closed Ramp, West Side Highway - 1997 Oops, here's one that isn't square. It was done a decade earlier than the rest, so perhaps Aronson hadn't settled into his dimensional groove. Note the strong, almost abstract design. Oceanside - 2008 Aronson does people, too. Again the design is strong and, if certain details were omitted, would become an abstract painting. This point is more obvious if you squint or look at it from a distance. The Secret - 2008 Not all of his work is done outdoors. Seems that Aronson can do portraits too, if he sets his mind to it. Nighthawks - 2008 The takeoff on Edward Hopper's famous 1942 painting of a nearly-deserted downtown diner was intentional. Aronson's twisteroo was to place the subjects in a fancy contemporary bar, another overlap with Auster, even down to including a painting behind the bar.. So far, I like what I see in Aronson's work. I notice that he's represented by a San Francisco gallery, so I'll make an effort to stop by when I'm in town later this year to find out if his originals are as appealing as the reproductions suggest. Aronson shows us a way in which lessons from modernist experiments can be used in the creation of paintings that are more representational than not. No resorting to contemporary modernist irony or other in-your-face tricks, either. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 15, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments





Monday, July 13, 2009


We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It says in that panel over at the left that we Blowhards are arts buffs. But as best I can tell, "buff" doesn't translate into art über alles (yes, I know the German word is "kunst"). That's true for me, anyway. Art is nice, there's plenty of it out there and human nature being what it is, it won't disappear even though individual arts might have their ups and downs. Given my warped little philosophy, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that my teeth grind themselves into dust when I encounter people making art out to be more important than it should be while whining that ever more resources must!! be devoted to propping up one favored enterprise or another. What set off this tirade was an article I read in today's editorial page of the Seattle Times, an opinion piece from the 9 July Los Angeles Times by Ben Donenberg, "the founding artistic director of Shakespeare Festival/LA and a member of the National Council on the Arts." The link is to the LA Times site. As usual, I offer some excerpts: [I] recently sent an article to a local philanthropic leader about the importance of helping arts organizations during the recession. I thought he might draw inspiration from it, but that was too optimistic. "I don't need inspiration," he quickly responded. "We aren't supporting the arts; we're supporting essentials." ... Why should we care? Because experiencing and creating art is a crucial part of developing young people who can understand the world's complexity and tackle its problems with a full range of tools. He goes on to mention a project "working with a group of inner-city youths at an overnight community arts camp in the local mountains." They were to create a presentation "inspired by" A Midsummer Night's Dream and the idea was to have them experience a real woods at night. They were urged to explore a variety of artistic responses to the experience. Some wrote poetry; some danced in celebration of nightfall; others sang songs about the moon. One 17-year-old girl was particularly affected by the experience.... As she struggled to find poetry, she shifted her gaze and her flashlight beam between pages of a Shakespeare play and her notebook, filled with words she had carefully crafted. We struggled with her, rejoicing in her awakening even as we felt her pain at realizing that people with more money than she could know nighttime in a very different way. That night in the forest put new colors on the young woman's palette. ... Here's some advice for anyone who has to decide what is "essential" when making philanthropic funding decisions. Some summer night, take time out to look at the sky from someplace really dark. Then try to express -- visually or in words -- what the experience was like. I suspect you'll come to understand why art is essential. Let's see ... a hint of racialism ("inner-city"), sexual politics (the subject... posted by Donald at July 13, 2009 | perma-link | (47) 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





Monday, July 6, 2009


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





Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Bubbles, McMansions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What role did the ventromedial prefrontal cortex play in causing the current economic crisis? * Have Americans fallen out of love with McMansions? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 1, 2009 | perma-link | (30) comments





Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Instructions for Drawing What Doesn't Exist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you wanna draw or paint faeries -- what you read about in childrens' stories -- then here is a book for you. How about wizards, witches and warlocks? Check here. Or here if you need dragon-drawing help. On the other hand, if a commission for a portrayal of goblins, orcs and "other dark creatures" flies over the transom, then you might want to get a copy of this book. As nearly as I can tell (you might disagree), there are no such things as faeries, witches, warlocks, dragons, goblins and orcs. So painting them plein-air or posed in the studio might prove frustrating. Thank goodness those books exist and can come to the rescue. What I find interesting is that there is enough agreement about the appearance of non-existent creatures that such instruction books are possible. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 30, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Sunday, June 28, 2009


Casey Baugh: A Really New Realist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, I'm aware that I've been tending to write about artists active 50-150 years ago and largely ignoring artists who are alive and painting or who departed fairly recently. As a corrective, I'll do some postings about painters whose work I see in magazines such as American Artist, American Art Collector and Art of the West. The downside is that I've seen little or none of their work in person and mostly rely on reproductions in those magazines or on the Web. That's because their paintings are mostly in the artists' studios, private collections or art galleries rather than in major museums. (Note to self: compile a list of artists and their main galleries and take it along on future trips to California, Arizona and New Mexico. Galleries here in the Seattle area mostly skew modernist.) The subject of the present post is Casey Baugh, a guy still in his twenties who has impressive technical skills. His Web site is here. An article about him containing useful background material is here. Below are examples of his work. All show women, but he sometimes paints men; dig through his site to find examples. Gallery Ambiance Interesting use of cool light on the subject's hair and body planes. I find the treatment of the oriental rug impressive: compare to the rug in Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Blue Earring Kate Red Scarf This is a demonstration painting. A report on the demonstration is here. Most demonstration paintings I'm familiar with tend to have an unfinished look that's understandable, given the circumstances of their creation. Baugh brought the subject's face to a considerable degree of finish. This also shows that he doesn't painstakingly copy photos -- or doesn't need to, anyway. This guy's skill seems to be for real. Nonchalant As well as any, this illustrates Baugh's practice of creating smooth faces while leaving backgrounds and clothing treatment looser, more "painterly." Shades of Yellow Erubescent I think it's safe to conclude that Baugh can create knockout babes. But he's young enough that it's hard to tell how his work might evolve. For instance, he might simply become another Pino, who I wrote about here, an artist of high ability who tends to crank out similar works year after year to make a good living. As I've stated more than once, artists need to make livings just like the rest of us, so I don't get very bothered when I see similarity across works: one often has little choice but to paint what sells. If an artist is fortunate enough to attain a good income stream, I think it might be nice if he'd once in a while, on his off-hours, try something different. Many artists probably do just that, except those "private" paintings usually don't get seen in public. So we have no way of telling whether Pino and Baugh are beavering away on new styles, themes or whatever they might potentially be up to.... posted by Donald at June 28, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments





Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Textures of French Buildings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A favorite sport hereabouts is bashing modernist architecture, which we do for reasons that make good sense to us, at least. Much of that glass 'n' reinforced concrete 'n' metal cladding strikes us as pretty sterile and not people-friendly. Aside from one brief jab, the focus of this posting is on an alternative: buildings and townscapes with lots of visual interest due in part to materials and ornamentation that creates a textured surface -- usually with a partly random pattern or effect. The following photos were taken on my recent visit to France. For starters, this is the ground floor lobby of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the museum devoted to art since 1900 or thereabouts. It's large, and the smooth, concrete floor sets the tone. Does it give anyone a warm, fuzzy, welcoming feeling? And this is part of the exterior. Perhaps having been inspired by a shirt emerging inside-out from a clothes dryer, we see here the architectural concept of placing much of the "mechanical" bits on the exterior. The result is textural in its way, so I give Renzo Piano credit for trying even though I loathe the thing. Since we're in Paris, let's check out the area above one of the entry door sets of the Notre Dame cathedral. Note the decoration on the indentation from the outer wall to the entry door plane as well as the relief sculpturing above the doors. It contrasts the plain wall, so that surfaces play off one another. This transition zone could have been simplified, but I'm not sure if that would have been better than what we see in the photo. This building on the rue de Rennes always intrigues me thanks to its odd, Art-Nouveau tower on one corner. The little balconies by the windows and other details provide surfaces that keep the eye interested, but not overwhelmed. Here's another big-city building, this in Lyon. It has a "flatiron" plan and is more ornate that the rue de Rennes structure. The bold, horizontal extrusions help clarify the structure and to some degree offset the ornamentation. I don't consider this great architecture, but it's interesting and doesn't bother me so I can't condemn it either. Elsewhere in Lyon is its opera house, shown here. It has been renovated and that shows. At least it contrasts modernist and traditional architecture in one convenient package. However, surface texturing is light in both cases. Dropping a notch in city size, this is Rouen and its famous Gros-Horloge or clock. Yes, it's interesting. But check out the surface materials of the buildings shown in the picture. The one on the left has half-timbering and the next one seems to have wooden shingles. At the right is cut stone with the seams emphasized. The clock tower itself has a smooth, stone surface that contrasts the ornamented clock and its setting. The clock tower in Aix-en-Provence's old town district. Aside from the very top, it lacks ornamentation. Yet... posted by Donald at June 24, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments





Monday, June 22, 2009


Apatoff on Artists "Selling Out"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Apatoff over at his Illustration Art blog posted some interesting thoughts on artists "selling out" to commerce. You should read the whole thing here. But I can't resist his discussion of Claude Monet, who refused to sell out during hard times early in his career. Instead, he begged and borrowed relentlessly. Eventually, as Apatoff notes: Because he couldn't afford medical care for his family, his wife Camille suffered through a long illness with tuberculosis before dying painfully at the age of 32. Some say she died of pelvic cancer, but others say she died of a botched abortion because she and Monet could not afford to have a third child. Don't think Monet's artistic dedication was compromised by Camille's tragic death; he told a friend that he was interested in the way Camille's face changed color after she died, so he recorded the change in a painting ... Now that's what I call principle. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments





Saturday, June 20, 2009


Artist Post Link List (Donald) - 2
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here is a link-index of my posts about artists as of mid-June, 2009. It updates a list posted early this year. Please let me know of any errors or omissions. Anglada-Camarasa, Hermen Bama, James Bastien-Lepage, Jules Beaux, Cecilia Bischoff, Franz Boldini, Giovanni Casas, Ramon Chéret, Jules Curtis, David (England) Detaille, Édouard Dewing, Thomas Wilmer Edelfelt, Albert Frazetta, Frank Foujita Fuchs, Bernie Gajoum, Kal Gallén, Axel Goldbeck, Walter Dean Grün, Jules-Alexandre Herter, Albert Henry, George & Hornel. E.A. Hohlwein, Ludwig Kline, Franz Lambert, George de Laszlo, Philip Alexius Leffel, David Levitan, Isaak Leyendecker, J.C. Macchiaioli (Italian group) Malczewski, Jacek Mathews, Arthur de Neuville, Alphonse Pino Putz, Leo Schjerfbeck, Helene Serov, Valentin Situ, Mian Sloan, John Sloan, John (update) Solomon, Solomon J. Stuck, Fanz von Thayer, Abbot Handerson Thompson, Tom Tiepolo, Giavanni Battista Vettriano, Jack Vrubel, Mikhail Zorn, Anders This list will be updated from time to time. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 20, 2009 | perma-link | (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Architecture and Urbanism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * New England architect Katie Hutchison conveys an awful lot in one simple sentence when she writes, "To me, residential architecture extends beyond the built structures of our homes to the spaces around, in between, and within sight of them." Now that's the kind of architecture theory I respect and resonate to. Her blogposting is a lovely, short appreciation of a very moving space. Fun to see that Katie is now selling prints and notecards of her photographs. She shows the same love of natural materials and processes, simple and direct experience, and the varieties and qualities of light and color in her photographs that she shows in her building-design work and her blogging. * Large office towers -- that's "skyscrapers" to you civilians -- are doing as poorly in the recession as McMansions are. * Nicola Linza explains beautifully why he's committed to architectural classicism. * What a mess. * Time's Richard Lacayo offers a well-done visual tour through Renzo Piano's new addition to the Art Institute of Chicago. Lacayo is impressed, and for all I know the place works well. But to me Piano's structure looks like a genteel version of a 1960s airplane terminal. Here's a talk with Piano. * Has the building frenzy in Dubai finally come to an end? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * Nathan Origer takes a walk through his beloved hometown and wonders why so many of the newer buildings are so awful. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 18, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments




Detaille was Detailed, de Neuville was Better
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- During my scamper around Paris last month I visited the Musée de l'Armée in the Invalides complex (the Wikipedia entry is here, but is skimpy and somewhat off-topic). The late-19th century display section included a number of works by noted military artist Jean-Batiste-Édouard Detaille (1848-1912) who had a hand in the establishment of the museum's collection; he'd collected a good deal of militaria as reference material for his genre. More information about him can be found here (extremely brief) and here (a little longer, but still sketchy). Among the paintings were impressive fragments from a panorama painted by Detaille and Alphonse de Neuville (1835-85). Notes (in French) about part of this work are here and, with an illustration intact in PDF format, here. Two snapshots I took are below. (The color is way too orange; I need to shop for a camera that does indoor non-flash photography better than my little three-year-old Nikon.) And here is a fragment of the same panorama that I found on the Web. The artists painted two panoramas during 1881-83: the 16 August 1870 battle at Rezonville and the 30 November 1870 battle at Champigny during the siege of Paris. The fragments shown above are from the Rezonville work. More on the panoramas can be found here and here. What impressed me was the "painterly" quality -- simplified, bold brushwork combined with color selection yielding a satisfying image when seen a ways away, important items for murals and panoramas. Some of this can be seen in my close-ups above, though the original art is much better. Detaille was the lead artist on the projects, so I assumed his style dominated the cooperative effort. But after doing a little research, I'm not so sure. Let's look at some evidence. Gallery: Detaille As the pun in the title of this piece and similar comments elsewhere indicate, Detaille is noted more for his precision and attention to detail than to other artistic qualities. Nevertheless, while much of his work is indeed "tight," some is more "free." This shows Napoleon in 1806. It's an example of Detaille's tighter painting style where details of uniforms and equipment predominate. La Salue aux Blessée (Saluting the Wounded) is less tight, probably because the figures are so relatively small that detail became much less important than atmosphere. "Charge at Mosbronn" is an action scene, one of many Detaille painted. Again, thanks to its subject matter, it too can serve as a basis for comparison with Neuville's work shown below. Gallery: de Neuville Titled "Attaque d'une maison barricadée à Vellersexel," we see a free, nearly sketch-like impression of a skirmish's aftermath. Compare the buildings here with those in the Detaille painting immediately above. "La cimetière de Saint-Privat" is an example of Neuville's work that seems more tightly done. But that might be due to its scale: the Musée d'Orsay's web site contains comments on it and his work here along with close-ups of fragments that indicate painterly rather... posted by Donald at June 18, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments





Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Courbet, Seen Darkly
Donald PIttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe I was just seeing things. Or maybe not. No doubt many of you have seen reproductions such as the one below of Gustave Courbet's The Artist's Studio. When I visited Paris' Musée d'Orsay a few weeks ago I didn't see all that much of it. That's because it was so darkened -- seemingly darker than the reproductions I'm familiar with including the one above -- that it surprised me. According to this blog (scroll down), the painting was refurbished and reinstalled last fall; their photo of the reinstallation is below. Yes, this recent photo suggests that the painting isn't as dark as it seemed when I saw it eight months later. But for what it's worth, other nearby Courbets struck me as being pretty dark, too. Ditto a Rousseau. So am I wrong? Was the lighting for the painting bad? Is my eyesight failing? Or was the painting always a rather dark affair? Perhaps it originally was brighter and, as often happens, its varnish yellowed it. If so, then why didn't the museum strip off the varnish to restore the original colors? Or were there technical reasons they couldn't? I'm clueless, so I hope a few mavens and recent Orsay visitors will hop into Comments and help me out on the facts and assuage the disappointment I felt that day even if the conclusion is that I have lousy vision. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 16, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Saturday, June 13, 2009


Cherettes -- Postered, Painted and Pasteled
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For the past century or thereabouts, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec has been the Parisian poster artist most remembered by the public at large and most art followers as well. Poster art fans won't deny Lautrec's place in that field any more than they would that of Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. But they'll likely make the point that they guy who really invented the modern poster was Jules Chéret (1836-1932). He's the tall fellow in the doctored photo above (the original was monochrome, of course, but someone tipped in a color rendition of the Chéret poster in the original, and that's what seems to be at the top of Google image searches). The little man is you-know-who. The Wikipedia biography of Chéret is here. Another site you might want to visit is here. As the linked biographical material indicates, Chéret's posters featured lively girls who became popularly known as "Cherettes". If you happen to view a large number of Cherette posters (and Chéret turned out hundreds of them), they become somewhat monotonous. But that's often the case of you see a collection of any artist's work in a gallery, museum or book. Artists have this strange tendency to create lots of what sells, after all. Besides, posters and paintings are usually intended to be seen in isolation and not as part of a collection. Another consideration about Chéret is that, while advances in lithographic technology made his posters possible in the first place, the results seem crude by today's standards. So just how good might his poster art have been absent technological limitations? Really good. I discovered that while visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nice (its title sometimes includes the words "Jules Chéret" following the main name). Its web site is here; only the French sub-link seems to work, and no works are shown. It seems that Chéret did a lot of pastel work that included studies for posters, and these can be found amongst the displays in a room the museum devotes to him. Also included are some oils and pastel portraits. Not a lot of this can be found on the Web, but I snitched a few to illustrate what I just mentioned. Gallery Let's start with a poster to set the stage and get you in the proper mood. It's for the Folies Bergère featuring one of its stars and not an anonymous Cherette. This is a poster version of a work titled "La Musique" ... ... and this is a pastel version, probably a study for the former. In person it has depth and a vibrancy the poster lacks -- though this distinction isn't so easy to make when viewing digital images as you are now. Yes, it features a Cherette. Here is another pastel. It doesn't seem to be a poster study, but I might be wrong about that. Here is a pastel portrait of Arlette Dorgère (1904). My museum book on Chéret indicates that she "inspira pleusiers... posted by Donald at June 13, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, June 11, 2009


A Searle Semi-Sighting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Readers "of a certain age" might well recall the art of British cartoonist/illustrator/writer Ronald Searle (1920-). He was especially prolific during the 1950s and 60s. Influential, too: cartoonists active today have borrowed his way of exaggerating facial and body features. He is perhaps best known as the creator of the St. Trinian's School books that became the subject of comedy films. The girls in that school were nasty, but not nearly as bad as the Japanese guards Searle had to deal with after Singapore surrendered and he and fellow soldiers were shipped north to work on River Kwai type projects. I was a big fan of his and was both startled and pleased to notice the framed, autographed print in the lobby of our Paris hotel (the Fleury, wonderfully situated about halfway between the boul' Miche and the rue Bonaparte on the Left Bank). Searle has lived in the South of France since 1961 and apparently likes the Fleury when he's in Paris. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 11, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Visual Arts Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Anarchist and novelist Stewart Home -- I liked his crazy book "Blow Job" -- wonders how long London's Tate Museum (CORRECTION: thanks to dearieme for pointing out that I should have written "London's Tate Modern Museum") is going to last. Funny line: "The art world is part and parcel of the financial world. When high finance catches a cold, local art scenes react as if they’ve got the plague." * "Della Robbia blue" is one of those terms you'll hear in and around the visual arts. Learn a lot about the Renaissance-era, terra-cotta-sculpture-making Della Robbia dynasty in this good article by Roderick Conway Morris. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * Jonathan Glancey praises the Starship Enterprise as a piece of visual design. * Hard not to love a collection of amazing photos of animals. * All in a day's work for a mountain goat. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * David Pogue takes part in one of those Improv Everywhere events. * 78 photography mistakes you should try to avoid making. A very droll -- and useful -- visual posting. * MBlowhard Rewind: I mused briefly about symmetry and beauty. Best, Michael UPDATE: Roissy reacts to a D.C. art show.... posted by Michael at June 10, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments




Stained Glass Windows, Old and New
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm afraid I seldom pay much attention to stained glass windows in cathedrals and churches. But I did when we stepped into the Église Saint-Séverin located in Paris' Latin Quarter. As this Wikipedia entry indicates, the church has traditional windows along with some new ones created by Jean René Bazaine (1904-2001) who, according to the link, did a good deal of work of that kind. One of his Saint-Séverin windows (in an image I grabbed off the Web) is shown below. Since I don't feel qualified to evaluate Bazaine's windows on their own terms, I'll simply mention that they struck me as bland and washed-out looking compared to the traditional windows in the same setting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 10, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, June 2, 2009


A Shrewdly Managed Painting Competition
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in April, James Gurney posted about the French Prix de Rome competition, the winner of which gained a good deal of prestige along with a scholarship to study art in Rome. You should read the whole thing if the subject interests you (it's well-illustrated). Here are some excerpts to provide the gist: To enter the Prix de Rome competition, you had to qualify by winning the concours d’esquisse, where students composed a painted sketch based on a theme provided by the professors. If you made it this far, you had already been sifted out of a large bunch of aspirants. Then you went on to a captive sketch competition called the the concours de dessin, or ‘en loges,’ (the loge was an area of cubicles, illustrated above.) The finalists were ranked and then sequestered into the little stalls. They were all assigned the same surprise theme, usually from Greek or Roman history, mythology, or the Bible. They were given twelve hours to complete an outline drawing. They could not leave their cubicles, nor could they talk to anyone. (I assume they were given some bread, water, and a chamber pot.) ... When they finished the session, the professor signed and stamped their entry. ... Then the students each were given 72 days to complete their paintings, using the full benefit of models, costumes, and props. But they could not deviate in any significant way from their sketches. ... Success in this competition required the ability to draw figures and compositions from memory and imagination. It also required a familiarity with hundreds of possible stories from the standard myths and biblical texts. What I find interesting is the psychology underlying the competition, assuming that it was a conscious part of the way it was set up. Lots and lots of us are prone to dither and dally when having to commit to something important. We'll keep coming up with ideas -- some bad, some good, some excellent -- but none of them perfect. Thus the process could go on endlessly, barring deadlines. The competition described above had seriously short deadlines and related rules that forced even the most indecisive young artists to come up with one idea and then work out its execution rather than churning and stewing and yielding no result at all. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 2, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Monday, June 1, 2009


Matt and Derb
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here, Big Hollywood's Matt Patterson talked to me about conservatives and the arts. Today Matt explores the same topic with John Derbyshire. Best, Michael UPDATE: TownHall's Ned Rice profiles Big Hollywood's Andrew Breitbart.... posted by Michael at June 1, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments





Thursday, May 28, 2009


Response to Chris
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My recent treatise about architecture and shadows elicited a few comments from Chris White. Among his points: The park vs. "public space" images [in the posting] make their case as much or more through the choice of camera angles, time of day, weather and temperature variables as by any intrinsic virtues or defects in the spaces themselves. A few responses. Why would I, in a short blogposting, make an effort to undermine my own point? Earth to whoever may be reading this: What we at 2Blowhards often try to offer isn't the "fair and balanced objective truth" but a counterbalance to the conventional wisdom. The conventional architecture-and-urbanism press loves experimental, fashionable, stylish "excitement." I try by contrast to point out the wonders of traditional architecture-and-urbanism. Besides, fair and objective has been done already. From the '60s through the '80s, the sociologist William H. Whyte (together with many research assistants) observed, photographed, filmed, and noted down how real people in real situations make use of public spaces. In 1988, he pulled his work and speculations together in a great book called "City: Rediscovering the Center." It isn't just an interesting and substantial work, it's a joy to read. Whyte was a civilized, sophisticated, and urbane guy with a subtle sense of humor and an amusing way with words. Whyte was a major cultural figure, as far as I'm concerned. Read up on him here. So let's get real. What does common experience tell us? On a sparkling day, walking through a traditional park, is it really hard to snap photos like this one -- or this one? And aren't we all familiar with deserted and off-putting empty spaces? This scene didn't take a lot of effort on my part to notice and snap: Nor did this one: One easy lesson to take from this: Modernism (and its stylistic descendants) can be reasonably conceived-of as "the defiance of common experience." Modernism: Endless experiments based in theory and speculation, very few of which work out. Tradition: Practices based in experience that almost always succeed. Another lesson: If public space is to serve any useful purpose it shouldn't be dealt with as "empty space." It needs to be crafted and created as a positive thing in its own right. But Chris' point continued to irk me. Maybe he was right. How much had I rigged the visuals in my blogposting? Thinking about his challenge while puttering around the SoHo Apple Store the other day, I found myself devising a way to achieve "objectivity" in a minimal-effort way. On my way home I'd be passing through three markedly different public spaces. The first would be stark and high-modernist -- the open space at the base of a couple of concrete apartment towers. The next would be modernist but flossier -- a space that's half a courtyard, half a park and that has been decorated with planters and trees. The third would be Washington Square, a traditional Greenwich Village park.... posted by Michael at May 28, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments




So Long, Saturn
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe the title of this piece is premature. General Government Motors hasn't officially pulled the plug on its Saturn brand, but might by the time you read this (I'm drafting this posting 15 May). As a car-mad kid I used to draw imaginary automobiles (still do, matter of fact). Pre-high school, I concocted brand names for some of these doodling projects. I recall that, for sports cars, I came up with the name "Siena" which I got by looking at a map of Italy -- Italian sports cars being hot stuff even in the days when Detroit ruled the automobile world. Another imaginary brand was "Saturn" which I selected because the planet of the same name was really cool looking: awesome, even. Many years later, along came Roger Smith who, as GM Chairman and CEO made it his mission to shake up the corporation. As the Wikipedia link above indicates, many of his initiatives worked out poorly, to say the least. One project was a new, innovative small car called the Saturn. The link lays out the history of the brand, so read it for the details; I'll toss in my own take here. My dim memory is that the Saturn was supposed to be something pretty special. Rather than being a GM division, it originally was a semi-separate company that had its own deal with the UAW union as well as a specially-built factory in Tennessee, far from the automobile-intensive Detroit area labor market. The idea was to start with a clean sheet of paper and meld the best of American and Japanese practices. The company had its own dealer network where prices were set by Saturn and there would be none of the horse-trading hassle unpopular with many prospective car buyers. This last point was actually a nice move from a public relations standpoint; I know of a few buyers who considered it key in their decision to buy a Saturn. On the other hand, trade-ins opened the door for horse-trading practices, so I wonder what the buyer experience was under that circumstance. The hype regarding the car itself was less that that for Ford's famously unsuccessful Edsel, but it was enough that I was curious as to whether GM could actually exceed Japanese cars by a noticeable margin. Saturn prototype, 1984, Roger Smith at the left. The first-series Saturn of the 1990s Neither the prototype nor the initial production version impressed me, though they were better than other GM small cars such as the Chevy Cavalier. I test-drove one once, back in the mid 90s, and was even less impressed. In those days, most small cars equipped with automatic transmissions were underpowered, the little motors having to rev away while trying to push transmission fluid to the point where the car would actually move decently. The Saturn was no exception, yet it needed to be exceptional. In recent years Saturn was melded back into GM. The current crop of cars and... posted by Michael at May 28, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Friday, May 22, 2009


Cars 70 Years Ago: Not So Big
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago James Lileks (his site is here) posted the photo of a Minneapolis building shown below. His interest was in the building's history, mine is different. As the banners indicate, the photo seems to have been taken in 1939. A couple of cars near the center of the photo seem to be 1939 models: the rest are older, as one would expect. Now look at the people near the cars, because they provide scale. Note how short and narrow the cars are. They are typical of the 1930s. Luxury cars such as Packards and Cadillacs were larger (longer, for the most part, but not much wider). By 1970, American cars were quite large, the growth trend having begun to develop seriously when the first redesigned postwar models appeared in 1947-49. I remember that advertisements crowed about six-passenger seating. But even so, a while back I was startled when viewing a parked 1950 Buick Special to notice that it seem narrower than I remembered them. Nowadays, cars come in a larger variety of sizes and types and comparable street scenes should reflect that. Later, Donald... posted by Michael at May 22, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Saturday, May 16, 2009


Big Brother Bucky
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Terry Teachout, inspired by an exhibit about Buckminster Fuller, penned this article for this weekend's Wall Street Journal. As usual, I'll excerpt it in case it disappears from the WSJ site. Was modernism totalitarian? That's coming at it a bit high, but it's true that more than a few top-tier modernists were also one-size-fits-all system-mongers who thought the world would be improved if it were rebuilt from top to bottom -- so long as they got to draw up the plans. Just as Arnold Schoenberg wanted to scrap traditional harmony in favor of his 12-tone system of musical composition, so did Le Corbusier long to demolish the heart of Paris and turn it into an ultraefficient "machine for living" dominated by cookie-cutter high-rise apartment towers. So what if the rest of the world liked things the way they were? Send in the bulldozers anyway! It isn't that these artists were especially bloodthirsty. While some would gladly have sent their opponents to the nearest guillotine, most operated on the rosy-colored assumption that sweet reason would be sufficient in and of itself to usher in a kinder, gentler millennium. I always read that it was the house that would be turned into a "machine for living" but perhaps Corbu someplace or other extended that idea to the city as a whole; it isn't a long stretch to say the same thing about cities. Knowledgeable comments are welcome to set me, Terry, or both of us straight. That aside, modernism was never a cute, fuzzy little way of ordering the world: it was demanding. Later on [after the 1930s] he [Fuller] expanded his vision [from houses, cars, etc.] to encompass city planning on the widest possible scale, going so far as to envision placing a climate-controlled geodesic dome over the whole of Manhattan. If such schemes bring Frank Lloyd Wright to mind, there's a good reason: Fuller was a Wright-like figure, a high-octane utopian who believed in the life-enhancing potential of modern technology. The difference was that Fuller lacked Wright's ruthless determination. He was either incapable of or uninterested in following through on his ideas -- and he was, unlike Wright, the opposite of an aesthete. The Dymaxion Car and Dymaxion House are logical, even elegant, but not truly beautiful, and the closer you look at them, the less attractive they seem. On the other hand, Fuller's ambitions extended far beyond the creation of beautiful cars and houses. Not until the '60s did he find his footing as a public figure, and when he did it was not as a designer but a seer, a prophet of change who believed that "utopia is possible now." ... Not only did Buckminster Fuller think big, but he was sure that the only way to fix the world was by fixing every corner of it simultaneously. "We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer, unless we see it as a whole... posted by Donald at May 16, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments





Thursday, May 14, 2009


Oldest, Firstest, Fake
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What to make of the world's oldest sculpture? * Was this Michelangelo's first painting? * Is Nefertiti a fake? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 14, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments





Friday, May 8, 2009


Architecture and Shadows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another in a series of postings designed to wake a few websurfers up to elements in the experience of the built environment that are simple, important, and too-often-overlooked. Listen up, America, goddammit. Today: light and shadows. And a fast comparison to kick us off. First, traditional brick and stone: Next, mid-20th century modernism (the UN building, in fact): Ignoring many of the worthwhile observations that could be made about this juxtaposition, for today I want to ask: What's the main difference between the above images in terms of light and shadow? Obvious answer: Traditional architecture-and-urbanism offers loads more in the way of light/shadow delight than modernist architecture-and-urbanism does. Another comparison. First up, some modest tenement apartment buildings: Look at the variety of shapes made here by the light and the shadow. Take note of the way the light and shadows emphasize mass -- those buildings feel solid. Don't let your eyes be shy about taking the ironwork -- the fire escapes -- into account. Those rungs, diagonals, slats, and verticals add a dimension that isn't to be ignored. They remind us not just of the sun but also (because they change so markedly as the day goes by) of the passage of time. You might say that, given the density, touch, and complexity of detail and texture, this view looks and feels like a painting. Now, a brand-new apartment building in the current wobbly / off-kilter mode recently erected just a few blocks away: What's the experience of light-and-shadow here? Not to be coy, let me suggest that the easiest answer is: "None whatsoever." I get "gleam," I register "glassy," and I certainly pick up on "swoopiness." What I don't get is any of this: solid, deep, substantial, calm, organic, complex. The whole structure in fact looks like it was extruded direct from a plastics factory. Or maybe it's a screencap taken off your computer's screensaver. But don't some modernist (and modernist-derived) buildings at least try to take the light-and-shadow thing into account? Sure -- not many, not often, but still. So what's the result? Let's take a look. Mid-20th century modernism: Hyper-recent: There's certainly some contrasts going on here between light and dark. No arguing about that. But what's the effect? What I mainly pick up from these attempts isn't "the human touch," it's "geometrical abstraction." In fact, let me go a little further with that reaction: What I really pick up is "rabid, monomaniacal devotion to geometrical abstraction at all costs." Human? Only if your idea of "human" is Arnold in the first "Terminator" movie. A reminder of something we can all recognize as human: Check out the patterns of light and shadow in that modest row of houses, and let the implications, suggestions, and meanings of those patterns ricochet around your brain a bit. Shelter ... The human touch ... Organic matter ... Evolved, near-biological shapes and forms ... A quick revisit with the values the architectural establishment prefers: The word... posted by Michael at May 8, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments





Monday, May 4, 2009


Painter's Blasts from a Century Past
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently James ("Dinotopia") Gurney posted on British painter Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927 -- Wikipedia link here). Two of Solomon's better paintings are shown below. Ajax and Cassandra - 1886 St. George - c.1906 Diploma Work for membership in the Royal Academy: accepted 1906. Gurney mentions that Solomon's 1910 book about drawing and painting can now be downloaded from this link. (If you encounter problems, an alternative is mentioned in comments to Gurney's posting.) Of course I printed out much the book and popped it into a ring binder for ready reference. At least one illustration seems to have been missing from the copy that was duplicated, but such losses are not too serious. Here are some excerpts that caught my fancy. Charming (if a bit hard to follow sometimes) is his Victorian way with words. Apparently some aspects of painting haven't changed in character in the century since Solomon wrote By the system of apprenticeship that obtained during the Renaissance and in those now regretted days when the decorative arts flourished in Europe, the knowledge of our craft was handed on from master to pupil. Those valuable traditions are to-day but a faded memory; but such is the spirit of the age, that even did the unbroken chain of tradition reach back to the fifteenth century, when oil-painting first came into general use, its sanction would probably be questioned and its teaching neglected. [Page 66] Moreover, Teachers have been too superior, perhaps too uncertain themselves about their craft, to do aught but teach and criticise aesthetically, and have left the student to shift for himself and learn his trade as best he might. [Page 67] This was my experience in the late 1950s. I didn't realize that the rot had started at least 50 years earlier. As for paintings themselves, probably in reaction to the advent of Modernism, he wrote: Let us now inquire into the effect resulting from our oft-recurring exhibitions of painting, and see how they influence the painter. So many of the qualities considered essential by our masters are sacrificed for effect. An obtrusive coarseness is now preferred to the velvety surface of the Dutch masters. Scene painting, effective enough on the stage, and perhaps telling on the great walls of out exhibitions, is taking the place of precious workmanship; and, worst of all, these exhibitions engender a never-ending restlessness and love of change. Anything with which to astonish the native! Fashions in painting come and disappear like Paris hats, so that last year's methods are as out of date as the headgear that went with them. Many bids for fame are made by men who, having nothing to say, invent a new language to say it in, and hope that their jargon may be mistaken for originality, as it not infrequently is by the immature critic and the modish amateur. There is no end to the possibilities of what is known as imagination -- that is, the power to make... posted by Donald at May 4, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments




Jane on Film
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little Jane Jacobs to kick off the week: I wrote appreciations of the great Jane Jacobs back here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 4, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Obama in Popular Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Has there been a political figure since JFK who has had Pres. Obama's impact on pop culture iconography? Che, maybe? In New York City, Obama's face sometimes seems to be everywhere. You can buy a Warholesque framed portrait from an art gallery: Or you can keep it real, man, and make your Obama purchases on the street: Feeling a little sour? Freshen your breath with an Obamamint: My favorite recent Obama appearance, though, was on the over of a New Age/Yoga giveaway magazine. New Life editor Mark Becker said this in his editor's note: I want to thank my dear friend Peter Max for creating and donating his portrait of President Obama, who I affectionately call Om-Bama, to adorn our cover ... We are living in very exciting time since we finally have a president who realizes what is broken and is willing to go out on a limb and step up to the plate to make these changes to create the America that our forefathers dreamed of. "Om-baba" -- talk about hopeful! Meanwhile, back in the real world, Pres. Obama seems to be carrying on as you'd expect any well-connected, know-it-all, Ivy Keynesian to behave. Here's how financial blogger Doug Henwood -- a lefty who favors nationalizing banks, so don't look at me that way -- evaluates Obama's performance: So far, the Obama administration’s notion of change, when it comes to this bailout, is to replace the Goldman Sachs alum at the top of the Tarp apparatus with a Merrill Lynch alum. Wow, that’s change we can all believe in, eh? Henwood is always worth a read, I find. While I can't get on board with the solutions he favors, his criticisms and observations often strike me as smart and informed. What does Obama represent to some people? Best, Michael UPDATE: A good passage from anti-globalist lefty Naomi Klein: Wall Street funded Obama’s campaign. They funded his Inauguration. They paid huge speaking and consulting fees to some of his closest advisers. What I am calling corruption is better understood as “crony capitalism.” It’s the systematic trading of favors between corporate and political elites to secure wealth and power. And the truth is, most of the time the trading of favors doesn’t even need to be explicit. It’s more that this corporate-political nexus creates an impenetrable culture in Washington, so the hedge-fund managers and bank CEOs are the ones who are in the ears of the Washington policy makers — they are their constituency, their community, the ones saying whether or not a given policy will work. And, of course, the problem is that the voices of regular people are left out.... posted by Michael at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments





Sunday, April 26, 2009


Visual Arts Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Best to think of Picasso as a comic artist? * Tweets and Status Updates become works of visual art. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an intro to David Milne, a lyrical, quirky and underknown Canadian painter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (0)
Vote for the Prince
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Prince of Wales: A beneficial or a malign influence on architecture? Go here and vote. I think he's been a wonderful force myself. It's been 25 years since he made his crack about how a certain modernist proposal for London struck him as resembling "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend," and he's done a good and persistent job of keeping up the pressure ever since. I also liked "A Vision of Britain," his book in praise of traditional architecture, very much. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Yet More on Art, Porn, Erotica, etc
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I left a comment responding to Peter L. Winkler and Shouting Thomas a few postings ago that I was half-pleased with, so I've dolled it up a bit and am promoting it to its own posting here. Ah, the power of the blog-owner ... The general theme of the discussion was "Will porn ever be accepted as art?" Peter thinks that porn is too function-oriented a thing ever to be considered art. Shouting Thomas volunteered some observations and questions about sex's role not just in art but in reproduction. Peter L.W. -- People don't go to action movies who aren't in the mood for excitement. They don't eat a steak if they aren't in the mood for meat. They don't go to Lincoln Center if they aren't in the mood for a "culture-with-a-capital-C" experience. Wanting a culture/media/whatever artifact that'll suit and/or enhance your mood seems ... I dunno, sensible, likely, unremarkable, and commonplace. So what's different about wanting a culture experience that'll enhance and/or suit a nice erotic buzz? More generally, I think that part of what's happening these days where culture goes is that a certain kind of familiar expectation is being upended. It used to be that we reached out towards the arts, and that we assumed that this was normal and good. The arts were central and eternal; we individuals were transient moths circling the everlasting flame. These days, it's more about using the arts to suit ourselves. Don't listen to what you should listen to: instead, why not create a playlist or Bookmarks collection that suits you? The person and his/her preferences and whims are becoming central, while the art-things are starting to seem come-and-go. BTW, I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that it seems to be happening. If we are indeed entering a universe that's far more "suit yourself" than the old media universe was, that helps explain why porn is becoming more accepted: It's primary among the arts-that-get-used. And if we're comfy with the idea that the arts should suit us and our moods, then many objections to thinking of porn as just another artform dissolve. Incidentally, I'm a little puzzled by people who consider porn and erotica to be nothing but masturbation aids. Does no one else enjoy leafing thru erotic/sexy images, vids, and stories 1) out of curiosity, 2) just for the pleasant dreamy high of it? ST -- I'm all for connecting the arts to the basic urges, and I certainly think that if/when we don't the arts quickly become irrelevant. But this is a cultureblog, not a reproductionblog. Culture after all isn't about bare survival; it's largely a matter of taking basic needs and urges and whipping up artifacts and experiences based on them that have beyond-functional aspects and qualities. Hunger and nutrition, for instance: We could probably survive on dogfood and mulch. But we'd have no "cuisine." Hearing and sound: we could just listen to nature and grunt, but we'd... posted by Michael at April 21, 2009 | perma-link | (58) comments





Monday, April 20, 2009


Prewar Shanghai Architecture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've never been to Shanghai and I can't get there. Neither can you. I'm thinking of the Shanghai that ended with the Japanese occupations of 1937 (the Chinese city) and 1941 (the International Settlement and the French Concession). It was a heady mix of transplanted Europe and America plus native China, legal and illegal commerce, an island of modernism in a traditionalist sea. Having spent the better part of year in Asia -- here, actually -- I've seen my share of ox carts, rice paddies, thatch-roofed villages and old, gaudily-painted temples. That Asia is fast-disappearing: except for the temples, perhaps. So do see it if it interests you and you haven't yet done so. Moreover, I'm not strongly interested in seeing the new Asia either. Okay, if someone dropped a seriously cheap tour in my lap, I'd consider going. It's not high on my travel priorities, that's all. But the Shanghai of 1925-35, that would be different. I'm not obsessed with it -- just curious enough to read about it once every few years and wish I had a time machine available so that I might drop by for a few days now and then. A few years ago I read a history of Shanghai for the period 1842-1949 (the year it fell to the Communists) by Stella Dong. An entertaining book, though some Amazon commenters thought it too breezy and sensationalized. My reservation was that Dong (who grew up here in Seattle) relied exclusively on sources available in English. (I lied, actually -- one source is in French, but you get the idea.) A day or two ago I stumbled across a book titled Shanghai Style by Lynn Pan, a Shanghai native who has spent considerable time in Europe and other parts of Asia. Its subtitle is "Art and Design Between the Wars," specifically, 1920-39. Thus far I've looked at the illustrations and read the chapter on architecture and interior decoration. Other chapters deal with painting, books and magazines, comics and cartoons, and advertising. Her thesis is that Shanghai was unique in having a large number of non-colonialist foreigners mixed with a local population largely comprised of immigrants from elsewhere in China who, by that condition, tended to be more receptive to foreign and Modernist ways than most other Chinese. I had fun looking at Shanghai versions of the kinds of European and American cultural artifacts covered in the chapters noted above. Architecture was a bit different because the architects who designed most of the large commercial buildings were European. Chinese architects trained in Europe and in American universities such as Dear Old Penn were also active. Below are examples of Shanghai architecture of that era. And remember that in those days high-rise building were fairly rare outside the United States. Gallery This is The Bund, the commercial heart of Shanghai along the Whangpu River as seen in 1935 or 1936. Most of it was part of the eight-by-two mile International Settlement, though... posted by Donald at April 20, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments





Friday, April 10, 2009


Little Architecture History Lessons
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm often dismayed by the lack of familiarity many educated Americans have with their country's architectural history. Because they're familiar with the two Franks -- Gehry and Lloyd Wright -- they think that they've got it covered. Hey, America: Architecture-and-urbanism is as big, wild, and wonderful a field as American music. It's seething with geniuses and talents, as well as fab, sexy, and instructive stories about money, ego, and power. Go for it. Side benefit: Once you get the hang of the basics, what we architecture-and-urbanism buffs like to call "the built environment" becomes comprehensible and eloquent. Why, the entire world is an art exhibit! Paul Goldberger writes an excellent introduction to the Chicago Beaux Arts (think Paris-style) titan Daniel Burnham, who gave us New York's iconic Flatiron Building as well as Washington D.C.'s glorious Union Station. Here's a posting from me about Addison Mizner, a larger-than-life fantasist / designer / entrepreneur who popularized the Mediterranean Revival, one of America's most lasting and crowd-pleasing styles. Best, Michael UPDATE: So how is the recession affecting America's love affair with the exurbs? Interesting Fact for the Day: "While an average of 19 new malls per year were built in the United States during the 1990s, not a single new mall has been built in the last two years."... posted by Michael at April 10, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments





Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Massengale gives a mixed review to the Yankees' new stadium. A video tour can be watched here. * Steve Sailer is sensibly funny and disparaging about an expensive new L.A. high school. Many commenters make witty jokes too. The good show left me wondering about something I've wondered about before: Given how much mockery of conventional politics the web has set loose, why aren't we seeing more populist mockery of bad, pretentious architecture? My sad hunch: Most Americans barely register their physical surroundings, at least once outside their own homes. * MBlowhard Rewind: I mused about the roles of utility and evolution in the development of the arts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments





Monday, April 6, 2009


Otis Shepard, Who Didn't Gum Things Up
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was in high school and college I'd sometimes go to the Seattle Public Library and thumb through copies of the Art Directors Club Annuals from the 1930s, a truly interesting era for illustration and graphic design. Most of the artists and layout designers were classically trained (at least compared to today's standards) and trying to cope with pressures such as the effect of the Great Depression on advertising, the advent of Modernism in painting and graphic design, as well as the usual work atmosphere of their trade. I remain fond of what they accomplished and find the award-winning material in the 1930s annuals generally more satisfying than most of today's print advertising winners in current annuals. One artist whose work I enjoyed was Otis Shepard (1893 or 94 - 1969). Shepard is best known for his posters for Wrigley's chewing gum; he served as a Wrigley art director and artist 1932-1963. Other than the information above, I could find little about him on the Internet aside from here. Apparently Shepard was from California and it isn't clear whether he was able to work from there or spent time at Wrigley's Chicago headquarters. Below are examples of Shepard's work. Gallery These are examples of billboards and other poster work for Wrigley chewing gum. The Wrigley family owned Santa Catalina Island (off the California coast south of Los Angeles), so Shepard got to do some promotion work for it when not doing chewing gum advertising. Oh, and the Wrigleys also owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team, so Shepard produced work for it as well, including this program cover and some other items shown on the link above. Shepard had a nice, clean style of airbrushing as well as a good feeling for simple, poster-style design. It's happy, not dark or edgy, and I think that's a nice thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 6, 2009 | perma-link | (3) 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





Monday, March 23, 2009


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)

Sunday, March 22, 2009


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





Monday, March 16, 2009


Pulp: Original and Recycled
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The 1920s and, especially, the 30s were the heyday of pulp magazines, the term "pulp" referring to the rough, cheap grade of paper they were printed on. Michael is the lit major of the Blowhards crew, and I'll defer to him regarding the written content of the pulps. Instead, I'll deal with their cover art which has been undergoing something of a revival in recent years. My personal experience with pulps was nil, other than seeing them on news stands when I was a kid in the late 1940s. By the time I was old enough to get away with buying my own magazines (other than comic books) and bringing them into the home of my (probably) watchful parents, pulps were well on the way out. My favorite genre at the time was science-fiction, and sci-fi magazines by then (early-mid 1950s) had mostly graduated from pulp to digest format. The thing to remember about pulps is that they were cheap. The pulp paper was cheap. The writers weren't paid well compared to fees for contributors to "slick" magazines (so-called because they were printed on a better grade of slick-feeling paper) such as Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. Cover artists weren't paid very well either, though the covers were printed in color on semi-slick stock. Since almost everything about them was cheap, the pulps, like movies, did well providing inexpensive entertainment during the Depression years. They provided employment for several classes of illustrators: (1) those on the professional skids, (2) artists content to be full-time pulp artists, and (3) young artists needing both income and experience on their way up the ladder to glory in the slicks. Examples of the latter include Tom Lovell, Norman Saunders and Everett Raymond Kinstler -- the latter eventually becoming a well-known portrait artist. As far as I'm concerned, cover art for pulps was often pretty bad (though some better examples are shown below). In many cases, this was because the artist was a journeyman hack, incapable of doing top-notch work. Other artists did hack work because they were new at the game and using the experience to improve their skills, as I noted above. Perhaps the main reason why pulp cover art wasn't especially refined was because pulp editors and art directors (if there were any -- often the editor dealt with art as well as with words) didn't want refinement. What they wanted was eyeballs, and the way to attract the attention of people scanning magazine shelves of news stands was dramatic scenes and bright colors. As a matter of fact, cover artists were often ordered to include areas of bright red because it was thought to be a good attention-getter. Another important factor had to do with the low pay; artists couldn't afford to spend much time on refinement if they expected to make any kind of living painting pulp covers. That was then. Today in place of pulps we have paperback book covers and covers of... posted by Donald at March 16, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Friday, March 13, 2009


Some Hyper-General Digressions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some recent discussions at this blog -- especially here and here -- have left me musing over some scattered and more-abstract-than-usual topics. No idea if the following reflections cohere into anything -- but why should they, eh? And maybe they'll prove useful to a few visitors, if only in a provoking-further-thought kind of way. At 2Blowhards we promote a lot of things. At the most specific level, we each have artists, entertainers, thinkers, and bloggers whose work we enjoy and want to call attention to. On a slightly more general level, we each have a bunch of gripes that we enjoy airing and points that we enjoy putting forward. Donald, for instance, would like to see the part of the world that appreciates visuals pay more respect to popular visual artists. Friedrich wonders why more isn't made of the political and economic matrices that art and culture arise from. My own preference is to peddle a Vedanta-ish "It's all culture, and tastes often change dramatically over time, so why get over-obsessed with judging and ranking? What's your personal reaction? What's your personal thought?" thing. But our overarching point here isn't to push any particular artist, thinker, topic, or point of view. It's to promote a better, richer, and more freewheeling cultural conversation than we're often offered by the usual institutions and outlets. Does the art (or book, or architecture, or music, or movie, or design ...) press overfocus on a handful of hot trends and chic names? Do the various art establishments deliver naive, fun-free, and narrow accounts of culture and art? We do our modest and amateur best to 1) point out how restricted the usual conversations are, and 2) offer examples of different, more spirited, and (we hope) more rewarding ways of talking about these things. I'm usually wary of speaking for my co-bloggers, but in this case I think it's safe: What we share here isn't a devotion to any particular artist, school, or point of view. It's to a conviction that the experience of art and culture is its own payoff. After all, if you don't find your life enriched by an engagement with the arts, why would you bother involving yourself at all? It isn't as though deepening your culture-knowledge, awakening your culture-responsiveness, or sharpening your culture-sensibilites is going to ensure you a secure retirement or win you more attractive lovers. In fact, for most people an involvement in the arts isn't going to deliver practical payoffs of any sort. What does "expertise in the arts" mean anyway? Can it be measured? How? If not, then what are we really talking about? Art isn't math, engineering, or science, after all. The changeable, vaporous stuff -- the cloud of tastes, quirks, preferences, and opinions that we all inhabit and that we bring to bear on all our culture-experiences -- is inescapable. The culture-adventure either enriches your life or it doesn't. (If it doesn't, that's cool, no harm done -- we'll... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments




Slow Drying Acrylics: More Testing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently I posted that to speed up my painting self-teaching progress, I was temporarily (probably) switching from water-soluble oils paints to a slow-drying line of acrylic paints from Golden. I posted the result of an early attempt. I'm still painting human faces ('cause it's pretty obvious when you get things wrong -- we know faces better than any other subject). And I'm reaching the point where I'll zoom back and include more of the body and perhaps add a little background. The acrylics have definitely improved productivity. I can complete a painting of a head in three days or so. But I'm encountering the acrylic color-shift problem. After couple of days of drying, the colors will have turned darker. This means one has to paint things a little lighter than what is desired and hope that the picture will darken just enough to yield the intended effect. Not good, which is why I'll probably return to oils after a while. I might add that I'm using regular acrylics along with the slower-drying variety. Sometimes this is when I already have a seldom-used color in a regular acrylic and wish to save money by not buying a slow-dry duplicate. Other times, I need to paint a small passage that I want to dry quickly, so using the fast-dry alternative is useful. Below are two more recent paintings. The surface is cheap, rather rough canvas board which isn't the best for portrait-type work. The photos are by my little digital camera using natural light. The results are not as good as the actual paintings. Colors are off, and the texture of the canvas board is more apparent than what one sees when viewing in person. At least they offer a rough idea as to how things are going. Both paintings used photo references, but are not slavish copies; I used photos mostly to get the facial lighting patterns and then altered the images as I saw fit. The top painting was done first. The subjects are actually the same actress and two photos were used. The reference photo for the lower picture was from a clothing catalog. I have quite a ways to go, but at least I'm cranking out stuff that's better than what I did when in art school those many years ago. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, March 11, 2009


About the Subject: Bouguereau vs. Currin
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speakers and writers of English, unlike those of German, tend to opt for shorter, simpler words or labels. (I set aside academicians and bureaucrats. But then, I'm not sure what they write is really English anyway.) Consider that field of painting called "Abstract." Yes, it's often pinned down more tightly by the term "Abstract Expressionism" if the reference is to a school of painting centered in New York City 1945-1960 or thereabouts. As often happens, the labels that stick aren't always the best descriptions. The word "abstract" in one sense is a relative term, not an absolute. And it matters what is being "abstracted" and to what degree. A better term -- the one used by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s -- is Non-Objective Art. A long, not-in-keeping-with-English moniker, to be sure. What it translates to is "art with no object" or "art depicting nothing recognizable." All the rest of painting, therefore, depicts something that can be construed as one or more objects. These objects can be what exist or have existed in the world of experience, imaginary objects as in the case of some Surrealist painters or painters of Science-Fiction books covers, or objects from experience that have been distorted, but not unrecognizably so. And that's one of the things that can make an artist's fortune or get him in trouble with art critics or usually both, depending on the timing. Take William-Adolphe Bouguereau for instance. There is little debate on whether or not he was an extraordinarily skilled painter: he was. Highly successful in his lifetime, his reputation suffered greatly after his death. In part this was due to the Modernist revolution sweeping all non-Modernist art under the critical rug. Otherwise, it was Bouguereau's subject-matter. Sentimental subjects or subjects treated in a sentimental fashion were popular in the late 1800s and are thought icky today by those who consider themselves artistically sophisticated. But that's what he mostly painted. Among the kinds of Bouguereau subjects were children. Most were girls and many were waifs. Below are a few examples. Bouguereau is the big favorite of the folks at the Art Renewal Center, and I wish them well in their effort to restore his reputation. The guy did an amazing job of painting human flesh. And the background work in some of his late painting has, in contrast, lots of visible brushwork. Alas, I must have spent too much of my life in the second half of the 20th century, so I don't care much for his subject-matter even though I greatly respect his talent. John Currin is a currently active artist who was trained in what I'll call a classical manner and who could paint serious subjects well if he so chose. Instead, perhaps in an effort to build a reputation and avoid the starving artist role, his subjects are outrageous. They run the gamut from the pornographic (if you're curious, go to Google, type in his name and then... posted by Donald at March 11, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments





Sunday, March 8, 2009


Frank Frazetta, Colorist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The era of mass-circulation magazines filled with illustration art was essentially over by the late 1960s. These days at Barnes & Noble, I see books of compilations of current illustration that contain mostly cartoonish, odd, ironic Postmodern-style graphics bearing little relationship to the work of the giants of illustration active 1890-1960. But people are funny -- perverse, actually. There is still a sizable market for well-executed, (largely) naturalistic commercial illustration. That market is represented by, among others, book covers, comic books, graphic novels (long-format, single-story perfect-bound comic books) and computer games. And speaking of computers, much of this art is done using computerized tools rather than traditional media. Those traditional media ruled during the period from 1960-65 until around the end of the century. Perhaps the leading illustrator during this era was Frank Frazetta, who I mentioned in passing here. Biographical information on Frazetta can be found here and here. Frazetta had little formal art training. What he got was during his schoolboy years; everything else he picked up from mentors or on his own. The first part of his career was in the field of comics, both book and newspaper (for a number of years he ghosted Al Capp's popular Li'l Abner strip). Such work was in the form of inking over penciled drawings with (for Sunday papers and comic books) flat-color fill-ins. After a falling-out with Capp, Frazetta scrambled for a few years until he began to make a mark painting covers for fantasy, science-fiction and superhero paperback books, comic books and, later, movie posters. He quickly became successful to the point that he is revered by a large body of fans. I suspect that most of those fans and others viewing his work focus on Frazetta's subjects. These include monsters, muscle-bound heroes and villains, and barely-clothed babes with bodies that don't quit. Those babes, by the way, have pretty much the same kind of caricatured face -- extra-rounded forehead and tiny nose -- that seems (to me) to be based on Frazetta's wife. I consider this constricted depiction of females to be Frazetta's main failing; more variety would have been better. But the subject of this post is not so much the content of his paintings, but his painterly skill and use of color -- subtleties one wouldn't expect given Frazetta's lack of formal training and a presumed lack of sophistication of his audience of paperback book buyers. I think that a good deal of Frazetta's appeal is subliminal. Yes, people probably mostly focus on the subjects and how they are drawn. But I contend that it's the color and brushwork embodied in the finished product that makes the fantastic subjects seem unexpectedly real -- even though it probably isn't noticed by most viewers. Let's take a look at some of Frazetta's art that I grabbed off the web. Gallery This violent character is typical Frazetta. But don't focus on the helmet, ax and so forth. Instead, look at the rocks... posted by Donald at March 8, 2009 | perma-link | (16) 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





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





Thursday, February 26, 2009


Outline Style, 1890-1940
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Above is a detail from a Frank Brangwyn mural titled "Dancers" from around 1895. Brangwyn (1867-1956) was a prolific, largely self-taught artist whose popularity peaked in the early decades of the 20th century. Book on Frank Brangwyn that can be ordered via Amazon's United Kingdom site. Although he was productive in several media, Brangwyn is perhaps best remembered for his mural work, which was influential. One characteristic of his mural style was the use of outlines, a tactic to give the paintings more visual punch at the distances from which they were expected to be viewed. This is in contrast to traditional representational easel painting, where outlining is subdued if present or is absent altogether. Outlines were also evident in contemporaneous posters. On the wall facing my desk are two posters by Alphonse Mucha that I bought at the Mucha Museum in Prague a few years ago and had framed. In both cases Mucha relied on outlining as well as color and modeling for depicting his subjects. Below are more examples of outline style. Gallery By Dean Cornwell Cornwell (1892-1960) was one of the top illustrators in America during his career. He also painted a number of murals, including some in New York's Warwick hotel and the Los Angeles Public Library. (At the latter link, scroll down to find the Cornwell reference. Click on the thumbnails to see the full images. Note that the outlining is almost entirely in light-medium blue.) The illustration above is not from a mural, but shows the influence of Brangwyn, with whom Cornwell apprenticed and whose studio he rented while working on large murals. Illustrations by Dan Sayre Groesbeck Dan Sayre Groesbeck (1879-1950), another essentially self-taught artist, spent the first part of his career as a commercial artist and the last part providing film visualizations to Cecil B. DeMille. He also painted murals, in particular a set of murals for the ... Santa Barbara County Courthouse This section shows the building of the mission at Santa Barbara. River Bend No. 4 - 1938 Fall Landscape - 1923 The above paintings are by Iowa artist Melvin Cone (1891-1965) and typify a popular painting style of the 1920s and 30s, characterized by outlining and toned-down colors. I'm not sure who did this illustration. It looks like something Cornwell might have done, but the Properties info on the initial grab indicates Andrew Loomis (the treatment of the woman's face is suggestive of the latter). In any case, it's another instance of outlining (mostly in the foreground). Outlining interests me. Puzzles me, too. What puzzles me is the outline color selection logic used by artists practicing this style. It puzzles me because I can't quite come up with a consistent practice. At one extreme are the L.A. Public Library murals by Cornwell that featured blue outlines. Then there is the Brangwyn mural at the top of this posting, which is typical of what puzzles me. Starting at the top (I'm looking at a... posted by Donald at February 26, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments





Wednesday, February 25, 2009


More on Porn and Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I still have a bad cold, but I've now got a quarter of my brain back, and I've caught up with the comments on my "Is Porn the New Rock 'n' Roll?" posting. So I'm going to venture a few musings and responses ... Let's at least admit that the "porn and art" topic can kick off a lively discussion. The comparison of porn to drugs strikes me as a good one. On the other hand, it's not as though rock music hasn't had its drug side, in several senses. Clearly some people use rock as a drug, if only an anesthetic. Clearly a lot of people have used rock to enhance sex. Clearly rock can addle the brain. Clearly for many people rock is addictive ... But has any of that prevented the culture generally from deciding that rock is an art form? Which opens up a topic I'm surprised we haven't made more of, which is: Part of the "art" thing isn't so much what the artwork is per se, let alone what its intention is. Part of it is the use we make of it. If a guy jerks off to Nabokov's "Ada," then he has used "Ada" as pornography. If a woman loves shall we say soothing her loneliness by watching Kevin Costner movies, then she's using mainstream Hollywood movies as pornography. Though these two particular people may be nothing but outliers, how about this: What if the culture generally decides to take "Ada" as porn? (Some critics have in fact deemed it porn.) Then it's porn, right? On the other hand, as soon as someone starts to take stuff that's routinely categorized as porn and considers it from an aesthetic point of view, interesting non-porny things can start to arise from the experience. You might wind up with, say, Bettie Page. In other words, how an individual or a culture chooses to take a given work is a big factor in how that work is considered. Once upon a time no one took burlesque performances as art. Now some people do. The first time I went to a pro ballet performance, my first reaction was "Woohoo, it's porn for the high-class set!" Yet ballet is about as high-art as culture can be. And before you dismiss my reaction, let me cite the respected ex-ballerina and ballet writer Toni Bentley on my behalf. For her, ballet both is sex and is about sex. Balanchine was turning himself on. Audiences are getting high. The splayed thighs, the ecstatic expressions, and the hefty baskets are a big part of what that art form is selling. Hey, Toni Bentley has not only written beautifully about strippers, Balanchine, and ballet -- check out some of her freelance pieces here -- she's written a wonderful arty-porny memoir of erotic awakening. (Look closely and you'll see my real name mentioned in the Acknowledgments.) I'm being a little presumptuous, but I think it's fair to say that... posted by Michael at February 25, 2009 | perma-link | (45) comments





Monday, February 23, 2009


Donald's Art Bookmarks
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael is the ace linker in these here parts, but I won't let that stop me from tossing in a link-post now and then -- especially right now. The theme for this exercise is the bookmarks tab on my web browser. It's a pretty lean 'n' mean drop-menu because I hate computer clutter. So I have only a few art-related bookmarks at present, a few of them in the experimental stage. Given that there must be somewhere between a bazillion and a gazillion web sites devoted to visual arts, I make no claim that mine is definitive. Rather, they mostly relate to a couple of my interests -- illustration and traditional painting. I'm reluctant to have a lot of such sites bookmarked. I gave one reason above; another is that I spend more time on the computer than I really ought to, and need to restrain temptation. If you want to build or expand upon your own bookmark collection, try these and then take a look at what's on their blogrolls and then the blogrolls of sites mentioned, ad infinitum. Here goes: * Illustration Art is David Apatoff's fine blog on, well, illustration -- though he sometimes strays into other art-related topics. He doesn't post daily, so I check in once a week or so to see what's new. * 100 Years of Illustration by veteran illustrator Paul Giambarba gets additions every so often, so I drop by once every couple of weeks to see if he has posted anything. His older posts are well worth looking at if you haven't visited his site before. * Today's Inspiration, is by Leif Peng, an illustrator in the Hamilton, Ontario vicinity. As the title implies, Peng somehow manages to provide a torrent of posts about (mostly) classical illustration at the rate of four or five items per week. * Another prolific site is Gurney Journey by "Dinotopia" creator James Gurney. He covers a wider range of art-related subjects than illustration, providing a good deal of information I find useful. Gurney posts on an almost-daily basis. * Art and Influence is another useful web site by a practicing artist, this being Armand Cabrera. Cabrera has a good knowledge of art history, so if you like the artist profiles I post from time to time, you might well enjoy Cabrera's site. He also offers instructional tips and other grist for art amateurs. Posting is generally Monday-Friday, though he does take breaks from time to time. * Lines and Colors by Charley Parker ranks high on frequency and interest. As is the case with the sites already mentioned, one has the potential for sinking hour after hour into reading previous posts. Parker more than the others is hip to computer-based illustration, so I found his posts on that field instructive, naïf that I am. I also have bookmarked a few sites containing reproductions of paintings; I might cover those another time. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 23, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Saturday, February 21, 2009


Stuck on Evil
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- That "Stuck" in the title is actually pronounced something like "ztook" or "shtook" (these might work if you're an English speaker). It's the last name of noted Munich artist Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) who acquired the "von" in 1905. I recently posted about a Munich Secession show now playing in Seattle. Therein, I threatened to post articles about some of the artists whose paintings I viewed, and now I'm about to make good on it. As you can see, first up is Franz von Stuck, one of the key players in the Secession. Links with information about him are here and here. The Wikipedia link notes that Stuck, besides rattling Establishment cages, was a commercial artist, portrait painter and art teacher. Among those studying under him were better-known (than Stuck, these days) artists Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Josef Albers. The painting that launched Stuck into fame and a fairly good fortune in Munich was the painting shown below: Sin - 1893 It's murky looking (a trait of many Munich paintings of that day), though the temptress (Eve?) is easy to spot. You might have to pay a bit more attention to make out the serpent. Needless to say, in 1893 Catholic Munich, the painting caused a sensation. But not so much of a sensation that Stuck was sent packing; as I noted, it was a career-maker. It seems that he painted about a dozen versions of it over the years, or so says the exhibit catalog. One is in the Villa Stuck and another is in Seattle's Frye Art Museum collection, where it seems to be almost always on view. Gallery Franz Stuck and His Wife in His Studio - 1902 Guardian of Paradise - 1889 Lucifer - 1889-90 Pallas Athena - 1898 This was painted the same year as Gustav Klimt's painting of the same title. Tulla Durieux as Circe - c.1913 Along with Edgar Degas, Alphonse Mucha and some other painters of his era, Stuck made use of photography when painting. The painting of Duriex is a very close copy of a reference photo to be found on page 40 of the catalog for a 2006 exhibit in Trent, Italy. (Title: Franz von Stuck: Lucifero moderno; text entirely in Italian.) Spring Love - 1917 In the last decade of his career, Stuck was painting in a mural style -- outlines and flatter modeling. There are two example in the Frye that I'm aware of, and neither is mural size, however. Villa Stuck exterior Villa Stuck interior More images of Stuck's work can be found here. The Frye has several of his paintings, but I'm not sure if any other American museum has even that many. The best place for the "Stuck experience" is the Villa Stuck itself. I was there three years ago and found it worth the mile or so walk from the vicinity of Munich's subway system. I'm not sure that Stuck was a great painter; but I do... posted by Donald at February 21, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments




Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Flickr fanatic Jovike is one inspired, and unconventional, Flickr poster. Don't miss his collection of photographs of book jackets. * Scenes from the Morgue does a great job of sharing old movie ads and trash-culture trinkets. * Lava lamps for a new generation. * This isn't your wholesome neighborhood Soap Box Derby. * A history of the photobooth. (Link thanks to visitor Julie.) * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to a Canadian artist whose work I love, David Milne. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 21, 2009 | perma-link | (0)

Friday, February 20, 2009


Is Porn the New Rock 'n' Roll?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gallery owner, artist, activist, porn performer and porn producer Madison Young answers 20 questions. Reading the q&a with Madison reminded me of a notion that I've been playing with recently. It's this: Perhaps porn is the new rock 'n' roll. I have a cold today so I'm not going to try to build my usual devastatingly-convincing case. (Small joke.) Still, some comparisons are striking. If you object to my notion because you feel that porn by definition isn't an art form ... Well, it certainly took a while for rock to be recognized by mainstream society as one. Definitions sometimes change. If you cavil because you think porn is too base or animalistic ... Well, rock was experienced by mainstream society for quite a while as little but a shapeless eruption of primitive energy. Then our view of what art can offer changed. Here's my basic reasoning. Porn has been around forever. What has changed in fairly-recent years is that 1) it has become omnipresent, 2) younger generations take its easy availability for granted, 3) a not-insignificant number of artily-inclined and talented kids (Dave Naz, Natascha Merritt, Eon McKoi, Blaise Christie, Joanna Angel) have chosen to embrace porn as their favored form of self-expression, 4) digital technology has provided tools to make porn on your own terms, as well as a way to distribute your creations. In other words, perhaps the only reason that porn hasn't been acknowledged as a significant new art development is because we aren't yet in the habit of seeing it as such. Were there loads of people in 1954 who realized that rock was a big, culture-transforming deal? So, my hunch: Perhaps 50 years from now, people looking back on our time -- in the unlikely event that anyone should take a break from mobile Facebooking -- will decide that Madison Young, the folks behind IShotMyself and BeautifulAgony, and Peter Acworth (the entrepreneur and mind behind Kink.com) were the culture-shifting art stars of 2009. Unlikely, perhaps. But can you guarantee me that this won't happen? And a quick reminder: jazz wasn't initially seen as one of America's most glorious contributions to world culture. For decades movies were considered to be a low-rent novelty. Almost no one following movies in the '60s and '70s forsaw that the exploitation movies of the era would have the continuing influence and impact that they've proven to have. Given all this: Which of today's artists and performers would you deem likely to be remembered in 2059? A quick attempt to head off one potential dismissive response at the pass: I'm not venturing my "porn may be the rock 'n' roll of our era" notion because I like porn, or because I feel it's a good thing, or a bad thing, or because I have a political or cultural agenda. I'm not agitating on behalf of porn. My only purpose in this posting is to take note of a little of what surrounds us, culturally... posted by Michael at February 20, 2009 | perma-link | (89) comments





Monday, February 16, 2009


Is MAYA Extinct?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- No, no. That "MAYA" in the title doesn't refer to the former Indian empire in Mexico/Central America. It stands for the phrase "most advanced, yet acceptable" -- a credo of famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy. And it has almost everything to do with Modernism. The early growth of the industrial design profession in America coincided with (1) the Great Depression of the 1930s and (2) the triumph of Modernism with reference to this country's cultural elite. About 1930, new skyscraper designs were sloughing off Art Deco ornamental motifs. In fact, ornamentation of all sorts was rapidly being abandoned as the theories of European architect-intellectuals such as Corbusier entranced even the best of American architects. For example, Raymond Hood quickly moved from Radio City style to International Style for his McGraw-Hill Building. The construction industry was hit hard by the Depression. Ditto manufacturers. But changing the appearance of most products is less costly than erecting a skyscraper. So while architects suffered, the new, self-proclaimed breed of industrial designers did well during the 30s because manufacturers were desperate to increase the appeal of their product lines and would spend money to make, at the minimum, cosmetic changes if not complete redesigns. Consumer products in the late 1920s tended to be superficially ornamented, in many respects design holdovers from Victorian days. Industrial designers could easily strip off that ornament and, if things worked out well, re-engineer products for greater production efficiency. The stated goal was "functionality" in both engineering and appearance. With respect to appearance, the notion was advanced that there was some sort of Platonic Ideal form for each kind of product and that the industrial designer would strive to actualize it. This ideal form was, of course, Modernist; shapes were simple and ornament absent. Actually, a tiny bit of ornamentation might be permitted provided that it too was highly simplified and "in character" with the design as a whole -- hence fluting and speed stripes found in "streamlined" Thirties' industrially designed products. Bumps on this road to rational perfection were caused by customer resistance to Modernist designs. However, as best I can tell, such resistance wasn't strong, though it did vary by type of product. For example, many housewives preferred traditional shapes and decorative patterns for dining china to Modernist alternatives while thinking nothing of buying a streamlined-looking toaster. In some cases, Loewy had an ideal in mind but understood that potential customers (and perhaps his client) weren't ready to buy the ideal version. So he instead proposed designs that would take the product's appearance part of the way to the ideal and this would condition shoppers for further changes in the direction Loewy wanted to lead them. I recently posted about the evolution of automobile fender lines at General Motors during the late 30s and 1940s. This was what Loewy meant by MAYA evolution. But the MAYA concept began to lose relevance. That's because the "most advanced" part of the saying actually implied "most... posted by Donald at February 16, 2009 | perma-link | (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Test Drive: Slow-Drying Acrylics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I whimpered and whined about my frustrations when trying to paint using acrylics here. My gripe was that acrylic paints dried too fast, at least for slow-working me. In Comments, co-blogger Friedrich von Blowhard mentioned (among other things): I've painted extensively with acrylics, far more than with oils. For me, they work best when you work very quickly, mostly achieving gradations by painting wet into wet or using drybrush effects. It's a good medium for sketching, particularly outdoors. Some practice will get you going in that direction. The problem with acrylics is mostly their lack of, for want of a better term, luminism. That is to say, to really see an finished acrylic painting it needs to be very well lit. In a dim room, acrylics lose all color intensity and can get quite murky. Oils seem to require much less intense illumination to give up their visual effects, especially bright color. More information can be found in this Wikipedia entry. Help might be on the way for frustrated painters such as me. The folks at Golden have introduced a line of slow-drying acrylic paints. They call the line "Open" (heaven knows why), and information on it can be found here. I presently paint using water-soluble oils. That's because I don't have to deal with messy, smelly solvents. The main disadvantage of this type of oil paint is that drying is slow, sometimes on the order of weeks. The result is that I sometimes have to set a painting aside before, say, doing details; I'm afraid I'll smear the existing paint. The slow-drying feature is also a disadvantage when traveling. Again, there is a risk of smearing. Slow-drying acrylics might be useful in circumstances where I'd like the painting to dry overnight yet still be able to "work" it for more than the 20 or so minutes conventional acrylics allow. Golden claims that their Open line allows working for a couple of hours or even more, which seems like a reasonable time. So I took a gamble and bought nine tubes of the stuff -- a palette range sufficient for experimentation. I should mention that I took up painting because I wondered how good at it I might become if I worked at the craft. Long-time readers might recall that I've been complaining about my poor college art training as far back as my guest blogging days. Most artists and art teachers insist that the only way to reach one's potential is to paint, paint and paint some more. Alas, I haven't done well by that criterion. Over the last four years I've attempted perhaps two dozen paintings. That's because (1) I have a life to lead, (2) much of my creative time is spent blogging, and (3) oil paint dries too slowly for a project to hold focus. (Yes, I could paint alla prima in oils, but I'm not that good yet; maybe later.) For what it's worth, below is a painting I... posted by Donald at February 11, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Monday, February 9, 2009


Secession in Seattle
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One war the French won had to do with art history. French Impressionism triumphed and most contemporary European art fell into relative obscurity, an injustice Your Faithful Blogger has been attempting to rectify for nearly four years. One of the casualties of the French Kulturschlacht was the reputation of Munich as a leading center of art and art training. These days only cognoscenti seem to be aware that, in the mid-to-late 1800s, young artists flocked there almost as readily as they did to Paris. Perhaps the best known American painter who trained in Munich was William Merritt Chase. Near the end of the 19th century Germanic art centers became secession-happy. Probably the best-known is the Vienna Secession, this due in part to the latter day fame of one of its instigators, Gustav Klimt. There also was a Berlin Secession. But the original secession occurred in Munich more than five years before Vienna and Berlin officially got into the act. (Yes, there were a number of artistic rebellions in the 19th century. But use of the term "secession" seems to be largely a Germanic phenomenon.) Exhibits of Munich art from the secession era are rare. However, one was held last fall at Munich's Villa Stuck -- an appropriate setting because a major secession sparkplug was Franz von Stuck himself. I have visited the Villa Stuck and recommend it to any art fan visiting the city. A modified version of that exhibit is showing in the United States until 12 April, 2009. Also appropriately, it is housed in Seattle's Frye Art Museum whose "founding collection" is largely comprised of Munich-originated paintings from around the turn of the 20th century (along with a couple of Bouguereaus and other art of the period). Below is an example from the Frye. "Head of a Woman" - Hugo, Freiherr von Habermann (1849-1929) The Seattle version lacks some of the paintings in the Villa Stuck show, but includes items from the Frye collection. Here, the exhibit is titled "The Munich Secession and America". I enjoyed the exhibit greatly and learned about some interesting painters I had been ignorant of; I'll write about some of them in the coming weeks. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments




Molly C.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Artist and performer Molly Crabapple is looking a little like Natalie Portman (only stacked) on the cover of Constellation magazine. I'm proud to say that Molly got her start as a writer here at 2Blowhards. Check out her Confessions of a Naked Model: here, here, here, here. Here's Molly's website. Check out Molly's baby, the burlesque-inspired downtown phenomenon called Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Friday, February 6, 2009


Art of the Pickup
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given that I'm about the last blogger in the world to notice a trend, with hesitation I present the following: "Realist" painting, as practiced a century and longer ago, was a genre featuring what was contemporary. No Greek gods, historical scenes, allegories or paintings with religious subject matter. Okay were scenes of washerwomen or peasants returning from a hard day in the fields. That was then. What might a Realist depict nowadays? Why not pickup trucks. At any rate, that's what I've been noticing lately in strolls through galleries in the Santa Barbara area. Examples are below.. By Davis Jensen This is far from Jensen's most impressive work: I can't find it on the Web. Even his website doesn't show his best stuff: lush California farm landscapes with an incidental truck here or there. "Goin' to Town" - Jon Francis Francis is another artist who likes putting a pickup truck into a scene. His Web page is here. Again, most of what I consider his best paintings featuring trucks are not on the Internet. For what it's worth, here are two more. "Red Truck" - Jon Francis "Autumn Truck" - Jon Francis What follows is not a pickup. But I liked seeing it in the gallery nevertheless: "1940 Fun" - Jon Francis This isn't the "Cisco Kid California" of the 1800s, but the California I might have experienced as a boy had I been born there (as Francis was: he's a near-contemporary). You might have noticed that none of the trucks shown is new. They're from the 1950s or before, though all seem to be depicted as they might be seen today (the red truck excepted, perhaps). Must be that brand new trucks lack character. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 6, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Thursday, February 5, 2009


A Potential Defect of Abstract Painting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I wrote about painter David Leffel and a book compiled from notes taken from his classes. When I was in Santa Monica last week I dropped by the Hennessey & Ingalls book store, a source of great temptation. One of the temptations I succumbed to was this book by him. As with the first one, a Zen-like overtone intrudes, though thus far I'm finding it worth the $85 it cost. One of Leffel's remarks struck me because of its obviousness and the fact that its point had never occurred to me. In reference to an artist evolving over his career, he said (page 130): How do abstract painters know when they are getting better ??? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 5, 2009 | perma-link | (28) comments





Saturday, January 17, 2009


Evo Bio Books
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A quick posting to let visitors know about two terrific new evo-bio books. In "The Art Instinct," philosopher Denis Dutton (of Arts & Letters Daily fame) tries to bridge the gap between biology and aesthetics. As a comprehensive evo-bio account of the arts, it's a heroic and (I hope) conversation-shifting work. Since it's also a book that nails many of the basics down in a way that the culture-world has been in bad need of for several decades now, I'm pleased to see that "The Art Instinct" is selling well and receiving numerous respectful reviews. Hey, the time may finally be right -- finally! -- for a sensibly down-to-earth yet sophisticated discussion of the nature of the arts. My favorite reviews of the book so far have been by John Derbyshire and Jonah Lehrer. The book's website is here. In "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution," Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending cheerily take on one of the most potentially explosive of all evo-bio topics: the fact of recent human evolution. So ... What if human evolution didn't stop 40,000 years ago? What if our social forms have placed evolutionarily significant pressures on us? What if the differences between population groups run far deeper than mere skin color? And what on earth might have been the cause of the cultural explosion that resulted in cave paintings and elaborate ritual burials? It's a mischievous, daring, and informative book that makes canny use of history, biology, and anthropology, and that teaches a lot about the way genes and alleles go about their business. It's also an exciting reading experience. Following the authors' minds as they reason their way (using vervey English and vivid imagery) through what's known now to explore possibilities and implications delivers a real buzz. I had many moments when I found myself thinking, "So maybe this is what being supersmart is like!" Fun. The book hasn't yet been released, but you can place a pre-order here. The book's very generous website is here. By the way: I notice that Cochran and Harpending created their book's website on the Squarespace platform. I'm a huge fan of Squarespace myself, and recommend it enthusiastically. If you want to build a website but would prefer not to devote your life to HTML, CSS, and/or Dreamweaver, Squarespace may be just what you're looking for. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments





Saturday, January 10, 2009


Exploring Modernism: The Tribune Tower Contest
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It can be interesting to look at examples of technology or aesthetics during the early stages of change. Lots of ideas are explored. Alternative configurations are tried out. Eventually the most appropriate solutions appear, the result being minor variations around that ideal until a large shift (especially in technology) occurs. I discussed the evolution of airliner design in this context here. In architecture, the emergence of Modernist design crossed paths with the American invention, the skyscraper. A fascinating example is the 1922 design competition for the Chicago Tribune (newspaper) tower. The Wikipedia entry for the building is here and a book about the competition (which I have not examined) is here. Many entries were simply odd, including one having the building shaped like a statue of an Indian (sorry, I can't locate a photo, though surely a copy is on the Web somewhere). Others were attempts to apply historical architectural styles to the structure. A few instances made use of Modernist concepts such as emphasis on structure and elimination of ornament. Below are some of the entries. Gallery Jens Fredrick Larson Here the architect grafts a design from a non-so-tall historical structural style onto a skyscraper format. The sensible base-column-capital formula is used, but I don't think it works here. Adolf Loos Modernist Loos submitted a literal takeoff on the columnar form. Given the amount of effort submission designs required for this competition, I have to assume that he was serious -- though the result certainly makes one wonder. Bernard Bijvoet and Johannes Duiker This is one of the few purely Modernist entries. The drawing shows an interesting juxtaposition of the vertical (the solid corner elements) and the more typical (of the time) Modernist horizontal motif emphasizing floors. The intended structure might be reinforced concrete. If so, the resulting building probably would not have aged gracefully had it been built. Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer Gropius was head of the famed Bauhaus School at the time of the competition, so it is little wonder that his version also is Modernist. The vertical-horizontal business is less contrasted than in the Bijvoet-Duiker design. The dominant pattern is individual office windows; a few horizontal extrusions are added apparently to provide some visual interest. It strikes me a a loft building writ large. Eliel Saarinen Saarinen (the Finnish architect and father of the better-known Eero Saarinen) submitted a design that many observers at the time believed should have been the winner; pictures of renderings of this unbuilt structure can be found in many books about the history of architecture. Gothic motifs were used to produce a handsome design that served as inspiration for a number of 1920s skyscrapers that were actually built. For that reason, it seems a bit bland or ordinary in retrospect. I do like it, as I do most other designs by Saarinen (Eliel) who I consider a better designer than Saarinen (Eero). John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood This was the winning design. It's... posted by Donald at January 10, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Monday, January 5, 2009


George Lambert: Anglo-Australian Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If possible, I write about artists whose work I've seen in person rather than in reproduction. That doesn't apply for George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930), born in St. Petersburg of an American father and English mother, raised in Australia, studied art in Paris, spent much of his career (1902-21) in London and finally returned to Australia. One reason why I haven't knowingly seen his paintings is because much of his work is in Australia. I fact, I'd never heard of him until I bought this book, the catalog for a show at the National Gallery of Australia. Wikipedia, a source I usually use to link for biographical information is sketchy on Lambert, as you can see here. There is a book about him and his son and grandson who attained notoriety in other fields (see links towards the bottom of the Wikipedia entry for more information about them). For now, this link will have to do. Here are examples of his work. Gallery Self-Portrait - 1907 The Red Shawl (Olave Cunningham Graham) - 1913 The White Glove - 1921 Helen de Vere Beauclerk King Edward VII - 1910 Newcastle Sybil Walker in a Red and Gold Dress - 1905 Important People - 1914 Miss Alison Preston and John Parker on Mearbeck Moor - 1909 The Sonnet - c.1907 A few thoughts, keeping in mind that this is based on seeing reproductions and not originals. Given that most of the paintings shown above were done around a century ago, I find it interesting that they tend to be quirky from a psychological standpoint. They are almost the respectful society portraits and allegorical scenes one would expect of Edwardian era -- but not quite. Nor are they "edgy" in the 21st century postmodern sense -- yet there's a hint of it in some of the poses and settings. Lambert's style is crisp, but not fussy. For what it's worth, I'm not normally much fond of "hard edge" realism. But his work doesn't fall into that category; rather, it's "painterly" -- one can see the brush strokes, particularly in the backgrounds. A rule of thumb many painters follow is to slightly blur and strip details from most of a painting's surface, leaving sharper edges and details for a focus point. This is similar to how we see things; a small area is in sharp focus and the rest isn't quite. But note that Lambert reverses this formula in a couple of the works displayed here. Sybil Walker's face and the face of the woman to the right in The Sonnet (probably Australian painter Thea Proctor) seem smoother and perhaps a little more blurred than the rest of the surface. This contrast of sorts would be a reverse-means of focusing attention. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 5, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Architecture, Insane and Sane
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New Statesman publishes a ringing and defiant defence of Le Corbusier, in my book one of the most destructive and pernicious artists of all time. The writer, Jonathan Meades, can't resist accusing those who dislike Le Corbusier of being "tectonically blind anti-modernists"; "one wonders whether they had eyes to put out in the first place." Note the usual modernist strategy at play here: If you dislike what I like, it can only because you don't get it -- because, in other words, you're an idiot. The possibility that a person may "get it" yet dislike it anyway can never entertained; it's a simple item of modernist faith that "getting it" must equal "loving it." And does anyone have any idea what the hell Meades could mean by "tectonically blind"? An antidote to the madness is this terrific, if too short, P2P interview with architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros about "peer-to-peer urbanism." For a comprehensive interview with Nikos, scroll to the top of this blog's page, click on "Interviews," and help yourself to a mind-blowing five-parter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments





Sunday, December 28, 2008


Insider Paintball: Anders Zorn's Palette
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This post is intended for practicing or wannabe painters who are at the point where they're thinking deeply about color usage. Other readers are always welcome, of course. Often mentioned in the same breath with John Singer Sargent are the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla, who I wrote about here and the Swede Anders Zorn (1860-1920), who I dealt with briefly here. A 12-part Web-based biography of Zorn can be found here. In brief, Zorn was a highly regarded portrait artist, one of his subjects being President Grover Cleveland. Besides portraits, he painted country scenes and an extensive series of nude Swedish girls who would be far too buxom to land fashion model jobs were they alive today. Zorn etched and sculpted, but is best known as a painter. He began in watercolors (usually painting opaquely) and later switched to oils. Self-portrait - 1896 Note the palette Zorn is holding in this self-portrait. It seems to have only four colors, whereas most artists' palettes have a dozen or more placed around the edges. As best I can tell, those colors are white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light and black. Four colors: that's all -- and this set is often referred to as the Zorn Palette. According to one source (which, to my shame, I lost because I failed to write it down before I decided to write a post on this subject), Zorn would use other reds and yellows if he wanted to change the tone or mood of a painting from what yellow ochre and cadmium red light offer. Such an alternative might be alizarin crimson and cadmium yellow light. I haven't yet experimented with a Zorn Palette, but this painter did, and had difficulty. Even though Zorn himself showed four colors in his self-portrait, he probably used more when the occasion demanded. For example, this article states that a person associated with a Swedish museum devoted to Zorn asserted that Zorn also used cobalt blue because more than 30 tubes of it were found among his possessions after he died. The source further stated that Zorn often painted water, which is difficult to do without blue -- one of the three primary pigment colors along with red and yellow. (Green, normally a mixture of yellow and blue could be obtained from the Zorn Palette by mixing yellow with black. A blue could be obtained by mixing black with white, though some blacks are probably more suitable for this than others.) There is no consensus in how-to books for painting regarding palettes. At least one I have favors having black, white and a warm and cool version of each of the three primaries. Other books acknowledge that, in theory, all colors can be mixed from the primaries (plus white and black to lighten or darken) -- but the chemistry of paint ingredients makes this impossible in practice. Therefore, one should use a variety of colors because this can get you closer to the colors you... posted by Donald at December 28, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Choosing a How-To-Paint Book -- 2
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As long-time readers might recall, I majored in Commercial Art in college. Required courses included drawing, oil painting and watercolor -- the same ones regular art majors had to take. Actual instruction was almost non-existent, the students simply dabbed away and occasionally the instructor would offer a criticism. I never did practice art professionally, so when I retired I thought it might be interesting to take up oil painting just to get some idea as to how good I might have become if I had had better guidance. My schedule is too erratic and my income too reduced to sign up for studio classes at local schools that offer traditional training. I simply buy how-to books from time to time and do some dabbing when I find the time and inclination. In this post I mentioned that I prefer to buy how-to's by artists whose styles I like. My example was David Curtis who lives in England. Another artist with books and a nice (from my perspective) style is David A. Leffel. Internet-based biographical information is pretty thin. Some sources have him born in 1931, others say 1934; from circumstantial evidence, I'm inclined to accept the latter. He's from New York City, taught at the Art Students League, worked as a painter in the city for many years and now lives just outside Taos, New Mexico. This is the book I have. It contains a foreword by Leffel, but is really a compilation of class notes by the book's author, Linda Cateura. A few years ago, Leffel himself came out with a book, but it's pricey and I do not have a copy. Cateura's book is a mix of practical tips and philosophical musings. At first, I found the latter something of a turn-off. But a recent re-reading was much more useful; maybe I've made enough progress that Leffel's thoughts and instruction make better sense to me. If his work interests you and you're thinking about getting the book, there are plenty of readers' comments on Amazon that might help give you a more rounded picture; click on the first book link above. Below are some examples of Leffel's work that I found on the Web. They aren't necessarily his best, but indicate his style (influenced by Rembrandt and Chardin, among others). The book has plenty of good illustrations. Gallery David Leffel Millenium Portrait Apparently in homage to Rembrandt. Nude in White Chemise Harvey Peaches and Yellow Finches Of Rembrandt and Pushman Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 17, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments





Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Alexander
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tricycle's Katy Butler speaks with the architect and theorist Christopher Alexander, a hero of mine. It's a fascinating interview. Though I'm convinced that his recent four-volume mega-opus "The Nature of Order" is -- despite the fact that its apparent subject is architecture -- the great spiritual autobiography of our age, I've never seen Alexander speak so openly about religious matters. FWIW, I buy the wholeness / void / unfolding model entirely, and not because I'm making any willful effort in the direction of "belief," but because that's just what life has always seemed like to me. Related: Enjoy an eye-opening 2Blowhards interview with Nikos Salingaros, an associate of Christopher Alexander's and a major thinker about architecture in his own right: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Nikos' website is here, and is well worth exploring. The best place to start for those curious to try an Alexander book is, IMHO, with this one. Expensive, yes, but well worth the price. How often do you read a book that really turns your head around? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Over-analyzing Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I decided to take in a lecture at the Seattle Art Museum. The subject was their current exhibit of paintings of women by Edward Hopper. (A link to that exhibit is here.) The exhibit is small-scale (around ten paintings) in part because most major Hoppers were part of a major exhibition of his work that started in Boston, went to Washington and concluded in Chicago, where I happened to catch it just before it ended. The raison d'être for the Seattle show is Hopper's famous "Chop Suey" which has been designated to eventually become part of the museum's collection (the current owner is Barney Ebsworth). It was part of the traveling exhibition mentioned above and therefore unavailable for display at the museum until now. Chop Suey - 1929 More information on Hopper can be found here; scroll down to view "Nighthawks," perhaps his most famous painting. The lecture I attended was given by the show's curator and based largely on the catalog text she wrote. I don't think I'll bother to buy the catalog, even if its price is reduced after the exhibit closes. One reason is that reproductions of several of the paintings "bleed across the gutter" (to toss in printing jargon). That is, they occupy parts of adjoining pages, and this makes it almost impossible for a viewer to properly see the artwork. Shame! shame! shame!! Another reason I probably won't buy the catalog is the text. Assuming it closely follows the lecture material, the following points will be found: Hopper was a very shy guy, greatly influenced by a Victorian upbringing which held that "nice" women could only appear in public in certain well-defined circumstances. Due his shyness, he was something of a voyeur. He liked restaurants, where he could anonymously observe other people and perhaps sketch. She (the curator) made a big deal about the anonymity of New York automats, the setting of one of the paintings. There was a long discussion about women and how they gradually became able to eat alone in restaurants and go other places unaccompanied without comment. Somehow this ties into Hopper's shyness, Victorianism and the creation of his paintings of women in restaurant settings. This is pretty watery beer compared to other commentaries about artists and their paintings, where politically-correct conjecture is heaped on painters who worked centuries ago and never gave a thought about racism, sexism, imperialism and all those other isms so beloved of current academicians. I consider analyzing a painting in any time frame other than the one where it was created as being unfair both to the artist and the reader (an important exception being the placement of artists and work in the context of the history of art). Even though I'm as interested in gossipy details of a painter's life as the next person, psychology too is best avoided in analyses of paintings unless the artist was seriously abnormal and the abnormality is clearly reflected... posted by Donald at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Monday, December 8, 2008


Contemporary Art: A Bursting Bubble?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Prospect magazine in the UK has an article titled "A second tulip mania" concerning prices and sales of contemporary art (tip from Arts & Letters Daily). The writers use economist Charles Kindleberger's classic analysis of speculation bubbles as a template for looking at that sector of the art market. You might want to read the entire article, but below are some out-takes in case the link goes bad. The bubble in contemporary art is about to pop. It has exhibited all the classic features of the South Sea bubble of 1720 or the tulip madness of the 1630s. It has been the bubble of bubbles—balancing precariously on top of other now-burst bubbles in credit, housing and commodities—and inflating more dramatically than all of them. While British house prices took six years to double at the start of this century, contemporary art managed it in just one, 2006-07. (Over the same period, old masters went up by just 7.6 per cent and British 17th to 19th century watercolours actually lost value.) ... The Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang saw his work appreciate 6,000 times, from $1,000 to $6m (1999-2008); work by the American artist Richard Prince went up 60 to 80 times (2003-2008). The German painter Anselm Reyle was unknown in 2003; you could have picked up one of his stripe paintings for €14,000. Now he has a studio with 60 assistants turning them out for about €200,000 each. ... But this bubble is now deflating. Sotheby's share price has lost three quarters of its value over the past year, sinking from its peak of $57 in October 2007 to $9 in early November—close to its 1980s low of $8. The latest round of contemporary art auctions in London has gone badly. ... The way [that helped get the bubble started] was led by people like Charles Saatchi and the Miami property magnates, the Rubells. Saatchi laid down a blueprint in the late 1990s that others have tried to copy—he bought the work of young artists, established a museum in which to display it or lent it to public museums, and used the media interest that such shows attracted (by virtue of the outlandish works involved and the association of celebrities) to sell on part of the collection at auction at greatly inflated prices. Some of the proceeds would then be reinvested in the work of other new discoveries. Saatchi's famous 1997 show, "Sensation," demonstrated that this "specullecting" was a great way to make a splash as an arbiter of taste. ... Contemporary art turned out to be an ideal vehicle for speculative euphoria. The market is almost entirely free from state interference. Governments have had little interest in regulating the trinkets and playthings of the super-rich. Art works are a uniquely portable and confidential form of wealth. Whereas all property purchases have to be publicly registered, buying art is a private activity. And unlike old masters, which are often linked by history to specific... posted by Donald at December 8, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments





Sunday, December 7, 2008


Name Changed, Guilty Protected
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed the following announcement in the latest issue of the University of Washington alumni magazine: Effective Jan 1, the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning will be renamed College of Built Environments [bold in original]. The Board of Regents approved the name change on Sept. 18. Dean Daniel S. Friedman says that the college is increasingly focused on sustainable practices and environmental quality, and that the new name is a way of making that official. "'College of Built Environments' better reflects our core responsibility to 21st century challenges -- urbanization, climate change and livable communities," Friedman says. Urban planning was always highly political. But now architecture has completed its transformation from art to politics -- at the University of Washington, in any event. "Hey Joe, what's your son up to these days?" "Well, he graduated from the U-Dub last spring and now he's a Built Environmentalist." One more reason to ignore the UWs pleas for monetary contributions from alumni. (State sales taxes provide core funding in any case.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 7, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Artist Post Link List (Donald) - 1
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few months ago, Mary Scriver emailed me with the request that I compile a list of posts I wrote featuring artists. I finally got around to it. This is a link-index of my posts about artists as of early December, 2008. Please let me know of any errors or omissions. Anglada-Camarasa, Hermen Bama, James Bastien-Lepage, Jules Beaux, Cecilia Bischoff, Franz Boldini, Giovanni Casas, Ramon Curtis, David (England) Dewing, Thomas Wilmer Edelfelt, Albert Foujita Fuchs, Bernie Gajoum, Kal Gallén, Axel Goldbeck, Walter Dean Grün, Jules-Alexandre Herter, Albert Henry, George & Hornel. E.A. Hohlwein, Ludwig de Laszlo, Philip Alexius Levitan, Isaak Leyendecker, J.C. Macchiaioli (Italian group) Malczewski, Jacek Mathews, Arthur Pino Schjerfbeck, Helene Serov, Valentin Situ, Mian Sloan, John Sloan, John (update) Thayer, Abbot Handerson Thompson, Tom Tiepolo, Giavanni Battista Vettriano, Jack Vrubel, Mikhail This list will be updated from time to time. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 3, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Not Learning from Las Vegas
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This post is about architecture and Las Vegas. It's long (thanx to lotsa pix), so if neither topic is your cuppa, you have my permission to skip it. The title of this post is a takeoff from the well-known book Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. I never read it, but it's my understanding that they contended that the Vegas architecture of the time (circa 1970) was people-oriented whereas conventional Modernist architecture wasn't so much so. After my previous visit to Las Vegas I wrote this post about the huge project called CityCenter on the Strip that is being developed by our dear friends at MGM Mirage. I just returned from Vegas, and the present post can be taken as a "progress" report. The photos are mine -- uncropped, not Photoshopped: rock-hard reality, if I say so myself. For general information on CityCenter, click here. Their "vision statement" is here and information about the stellar (starchitect) team that was assembled to do the designing is here. Recent financing news of CityCenter was in this Las Vegas Review-Journal (8 October 2008) article. Key paragraph: In a statement, the company said it had secured a $1.8 billion senior bank credit facility, which matures in April 2013. The facility is expected to be increased to $3 billion as additional commitments are received. MGM Mirage Chief Financial Officer Dan D'Arrigo said CityCenter, which has a budget of $9.2 billion, has received additional signed commitment letters totaling more than $500 million. As you can see, the cost of the project is both huge and not yet fully funded. CityCenter and some large condominium projects are paying the price of the intrinsically risky mix of long lead-times and business cycles; coming on-line during a downturn means a diminished revenue stream. Gallery We start with some views of the Strip as we love/tolerate/hate it now. Some of the honky-tonk of the 1970 period the Venturis wrote about remains. Changes since then include the construction of huge casinos-cum-hotels-cum-shopping malls designed around various themes ranging from Venice to King Arthur. Yup, we're on the Vegas Strip all right. Seems to be a Harley kind of place, that Strip. For kids, there's the M&M store. And the Coca-Cola store. The Fashion Show mall is on the Strip. Inside, it's conventional, but the part facing the Strip isn't. (The foreground is part of the Wynn complex.) More style clutter. That familiar-looking campanile is part of the Venetian. Another themed complex is the Paris with its half-scale Eiffel Tower. This view of the Strip was taken from the grounds of the Mirage. Let's turn to CityCenter as it was Thanksgiving week. Note especially how large the building are as well as their architectural characteristics. This is a hotel-condo structure as seen from the Bellagio, to the north of CityCenter. It will shade the Bellagio's swimming pool area part of the day; perhaps not a bad thing in Las Vegas' summer. The... posted by Donald at December 2, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments





Wednesday, November 26, 2008


DVD Journal: "Who Gets to Call It Art?"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Geldzahler, painted by Alice Neal Peter Rosen's 2006 documentary "Who Gets to Call It Art?" tells the story of NYC artworld taste-maker / power-broker / connoisseur Henry Geldzahler. A buddy of Warhol and Hockney -- and, yes, since you may have been wondering, most definitely Ivy, Jewish, and gay -- Geldzahler was curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in the 1960s, and he played a major role in getting a ponderous NYC art establishment to embrace the whimsies and playfulness of Pop Art. A happy networker and politically very astute, Geldzahler was an outsized version of a not-uncommon NYC type: the gayguy who lives for his taste and his friends, and whose personality is as much a work of art as any actual artist's creation. The film? Well, it's more of an art-thing in its own right than I generally like docs to be. But -- if you don't mind the pretentiousness and can forgive some huge gaps in information and exposition -- it's there to be enjoyed as a fact-based evocation of an epic time in American art. All that said ... The inbred-ness of the NYC artworld, eh? What I mainly came away from the DVD musing about was this: Isn't it funny how someone like Geldzahler could make a huge reputation for himself as a savvy, open, daring and refined bad boy by getting the artworld to accept Pop Art? What's so impressive about that? To me, getting the fine arts world to accept a new kind of fine art is like getting the French cooking world to accept a new kind of cream sauce, or the fashion world to embrace a new trend in necklaces. It's some kind of achievement, I guess. But perhaps the people who find it a hyper-impressive one are also people who take life inside the Charmed Circle a little too seriously. Meanwhile (and please heed a grumpiness alert here) it isn't at all uncommon for civilians -- people like, say, the inhabitants of this blog and many of its visitors -- to gab happily and un-self-consciously about book jackets, suburbia, cars, movies, fine art, ads, magazine design, skateboard photography, and thongs. It's all visual culture, folks. As for which culture-things from our era will last: Well, Time will tell, and will then probably change its mind. And -- since we won't be there to enjoy its verdict anyway -- why over-stress the question? No disrespect meant to Geldzahler, who was certainly an impressive phenomenon of some kind. Still: Who really deserves the rep as the more open-minded, free-thinking, visually-aware-and-responsive creature: the guy whose twinkling eyes and mind inflicted a little snuggly mischief on the inner circles of the self-declared art world? Or the interested and enthusiastic civilian whose brains and senses are open to a far wider visual-culture field? Here's Paul Goldberger's good obit of Henry Geldzahler, who died in 1994 at 59 years old. Fast-Forwarding Score: A tenth of the movie. The... posted by Michael at November 26, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments




Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * iPhone cubism. * FvBlowhard turned up a rewarding visual blog by a Virginia artist named Duane Keiser. Duane uses his blog to show off an appealing project that he's in the midst of: making a thousand very small paintings. I find Duane's art and blog very civilizing and enriching. I can see and feel his interest in what he sees and how to get it down, and I love the way he applies himself to his micro-paintings with calm focus and purpose. * Cultural Offering is a big fan of album-cover art. * Meet Shawn Kenney, an insightful realist who also seems interested in casting spells and evoking moods. * James Morrison's sensational Caustic Cover Critic blog is devoted to the appreciation of book-jacket design. This interview with designer Geoff Grandfield is a special treat. * Bonus Points: If Donald's gorgeous posting on Canadian giant Tom Thompson left you with a yen to explore a little more Canadian art, why not give FvBlowhard's Group of Seven epic and my appreciation of David Milne a try? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Tom Thompson of Canada
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last month, in this post about Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada I mentioned that I visited it beause I wanted to see paintings by the Group of Seven. They, and some associated artists, are well known in Canada but all but invisible "south of the line." Not entirely invisible, because I've spotted copies of this book at some of the better museum stores here in the States. I first became aware of them two or three years ago when browsing bookstores in Victoria, BC. The Group of Seven was an association of artists who painted scenes of the wilds of the Canadian Shield; the Wikipedia entry can be found here. The artist who sparkplugged the Seven was Tom Thompson, who never was part of the group because he died before the founding. In 1917 he set out in a canoe while in the wilderness and a week later his body was found. The consensus is that he drowned accidently. But as is the case regarding deaths of many famous people, there is a conspiracy theory holding that he was done in. Tom Thompson Regardless, in his short -- approximately five-year -- career in fine arts, he produced a number of impressive paintings. His large ones are bright and energetic, features that are ill-conveyed by reproductions in books. So to appreciate Thompson, by all means go to Ottawa and the National Gallery to view some of his best work. Thompson paintings can be found elsewhere in Canada, if Ottawa isn't convenient for you. Below are examples of Thompson's paintings. Gallery Northern River In the Northland Decorative Landscape Birches - 1915 Jack Pine - 1916 Birch Grove - 1915-16 The Pool Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 25, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments





Saturday, November 22, 2008


Re-Enacting: A Report from the Field
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the many oddball American cultural activities I know nothing about is "re-enacting" -- the world of guys who dress up in period outfits and recreate Civil War battles. So when Bill S. - one of my oldest and best friends -- emailed me that he'd taken part in a re-enactment, I bugged him to let me reprint his note here on the blog. I'm pleased that he agreed. Here's a link to some video of the event Bill took part in. Here's some more officially-endorsed re-enactment footage: And here's Bill's account of his adventure: A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited her brother and sister-in-law in Maryland. My wife’s brother has been a Civil War re-enactor for a while now, and he finally got me to join him for the battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Crazy stuff. 4,000 re-enactors on an actual battleground fighting it out. We drove down to Cedar Creek while the girls treated themselves to a shop-a-thon. We arrived around nightfall. Seeing hundreds of tents and campfires in that beautiful valley, I felt like I had come unstuck in time (to quote Uncle Kurt Vonnegut). I really had no idea what I was getting into but my brother-in-law has been doing this for 20 years so knew exactly what to expect. We slept (barely) in 38 degree weather in an open-ended Civil War pup tent with two wool blankets each. I got about an hour of sleep fearing frostbite on my toes, but it certainly gets you into the experience. (And you and I thought some of those old Boy Scout winter campouts were rough!) The next morning it was drills. Each division has a captain who calls, literally, the shots. Ours was from the PA regiment. He totally looked Civil War, complete with overgrown moustache. He trained us during the day. I learned how to march, stack weapons, shoot a muzzle-loading musket, and skirmish. The captains train the troops to reenact the battles in a historically accurate manner. They may tell you, "we need to take some casualties," if that's what happened in the actual battle. The battle started at 3:00 that afternoon -- historically accurate. It was off the hook. I felt like I was living the first 15 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” You can't imagine the period rush you get when you see 2,000 Confederates coming at you over a hill with muskets blazing. The Confederates are evidently still pissed about losing the Civil War, as three minutes into the battle they went off the historic script and kept coming at us. Quite the thrill to have two ranks/lines of Confederate soldiers blasting their muskets at you from 50 feet away. The guns we re-enactors used are historic replications of Civil War muzzle-loaders. To fire, you tear off -- with your teeth if you're a mensch -- a gunpowder packet half the size of a cigarette and pour it directly... posted by Michael at November 22, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments





Monday, November 17, 2008


Controversial J.C. Leyendecker
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The latest addition to my art bookcase is this book about famed illustrator J.C. (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker (1874-1951), creator of the Arrow Collar/Arrow Shirt man and more Saturday Evening Post covers than Norman Rockwell. Both the book and Leyendecker are controversial. Leyendecker was almost surely (evidence is circumstantial, but strong) a closet homosexual who lived with Charles Beach, the main model for the Arrow advertisements (that's him in the book cover illustration, above). In this autobiographical book, his fellow New Rochelle resident Norman Rockwell devotes Chapter 9 to Leyendecker's odd living arrangement that included his brother, illustrator F.X. Leyendecker who died of dissipation in 1924, and never-married sister Mary who left the mansion shortly after F.X.'s death. Eventually Beach gained control of most household affairs, turning an already shy Joe Leyendecker into a recluse. As for the book, one Amazon reviewer felt that the narrative contained too much material about Leyendecker's sexual orientation and its implications. I agree. Perhaps Leyendecker material is lacking, so they had to pad the book with speculation and possibly exaggerated claims about homosexual subtexts in his art. My reaction was that this material was overly pro-homosexual. On the other hand, one Amazon reviewer characterized it as homophobic. Whatever. I would have loved more information regarding how he constructed his paintings. The authors, active in the illustration art gallery scene, could have contributed their views or else might have brought in professional illustrators to assess some of Leyendecker's finished works and studies. But that's just me; I'm interested in how stuff gets done. A possibly more serious problem is that the book contains some images that are not Leyendecker's. The double-spread on pages 98-99 has been cited in Amazon reviews and a painted sketch of a man's head on page 75 has been called into question, probably legitimately. On the plus side, the book has plenty of examples of Leyendecker's work. My main quibble here is that the authors tended to full-page too many New Year's magazine cover illustrations featuring baby 1934 or whatever. One or two would have been fine, but I wanted to see other subjects in full page rather than thumbnail format (many pages are of small images of magazine covers). My conclusion is that the book is worth buying, but only at the Amazon price, not the list price. More Internet information on Leyendecker includes this page by Bill Plante and David Apatoff's fascinating presentation of Leyendecker studies here (scroll down to June 17, 2007). Here are a few examples of Leyendecker's work for those of you who aren't familiar with it. Gallery Study of drum major - no date Arrow advertisement - 1930 Couple descending staircase - 1932 Matters of overt/covert homosexual symbolism aside, just how should an artist portray men in advertising? (I used the word "artist" in the illustrator/Leyendecker sense, but the issue is the same when selecting photography models.) A typical semi-slobby guy isn't likely to enhance a product's image, in most... posted by Donald at November 17, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments





Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Over? Under? Sideways? Down?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Funny how all those cartoons and jokes about abstract art ("My kid coulda done it," etc) seem to come true, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments





Friday, November 7, 2008


Art Recession Datapoint
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was chatting up the owner of a Santa Barbara area art gallery this afternoon and turned up the following tidbit regarding one of the effects of the latest recession. It seems that some customers are trying to bypass galleries by dealing directly with the artists. Buyers would save most or all of the markup and artists would get as much or more than they would have otherwise. (This assumes no change in the gallery-market value of the art. Changes in that and auction prices are a subject for another day.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 7, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * How do Americans really feel about the small towns they claim to revere? * Giles found Christopher Alexander's "The Timeless Way of Building" to be a life-changing work. A lot of people have reacted that way to Alexander's books. * The Ottawa Citizen visits with Sarah "Not So Big House" Susanka. Michael Blowhard heartily endorses Susanka's helpful and beautiful books and websites, which are very much in the Christopher Alexander tradition, and which offer tons of useful ideas and tips. * Roger Scruton blogs! Sort of. But still! If you didn't know: Scruton isn't just a philosopher, he's one of the most substantial and provocative writers about architecture around. * Are English towns and cities designed more for men than they are for women? Englishwomen's main complaint: not enough public loos. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * MBlowhard Rewind: Our federal government used to commission and create beautiful buildings. Why does it now sponsor such awful and repellant work? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Thursday, October 30, 2008


Please Explain: Cezanne
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I decided to start a short series about famous artists whose paintings I don't "get." The concept is for you, our Valued Readers, to step in (in Comments) and set poor, thick-headed me straight regarding the featured artist. Here's the deal: I know that the artist is famous and was to a greater or lesser degree influential in his own time and for at least a while thereafter. However, this fame and influence is mostly in the context of the history of Modernism and Modernist painting. At the extreme, the artist is venerated because he is seen as an evolutionary link in Modernism's progression to abstraction and beyond; he is an interesting fossil such as creatures emerged from the seas eons ago that were transforming fins into feet. But what about the art itself, absent its historical context? Seen in isolation from that context, is it really any good? In general, I don't think it's great. I actually find little appeal at all and scratch my head, wondering what all the fuss is about. Why am I wrong? The first artist is Paul Cézanne. He was an outsider in more than one respect for much of his career. Fame and veneration came fairly late in life, though some artists such as Camille Pissarro recognized value in what he was attempting fairly early on. This was despite the fact (in my judgment) that Cézanne was never better than a mediocre draftsman (in my skill league, in other words). Moreover, I find the struggle he shared with other artists to "honor" the flatness of the surface of the canvas to be an odd diversion akin to attempting to square the circle. Hey, gang, if you want to paint things flat, that's fine; so is attempting to create a feeling of depth. No big deal either way, I say. Here are some representative Cézanne paintings. Gallery The Card Players - 1890-92 One of his better-known paintings. I assume that getting the men right was one of his lesser priorities in this effort. Still Life with Apples and Oranges - 1900 I think Cézanne's best paintings were still lifes. I don't have a title or date for this one, but it's clearly one of the many landscapes he painted in the vicinity of Aix-en-Provence where he spent much of his life. Okay, have at me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 30, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments





Sunday, October 26, 2008


Save the Embassy?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that the days of the American Embassy in London are numbered. One article I read mentioned that some people would like to see the building preserved. It was designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1960, not long before the architect's death. His major works include the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the giant riverfront arch in St. Louis, the main terminal building at Dulles airport near Washington and the former TWA terminal at New York's JFK airport. See the link for more information. Deciding which buildings deserve preservation is a tricky business. For instance, 50 years ago many people, myself included, would have been happy to see all those old-fashioned brick office and warehouse buildings from the 1885-1905 period fall under the wrecker's ball. Today, such structures are treasured. So one should be cautious when advocating that certain buildings be destroyed. I have given the matter regarding the London embassy some thought. And I say it deserves to be smashed into the tiniest possible dust particles. The building is ugly. It utterly destroyed the ambiance of Grosvenor Square and should be replaced with buildings compatible with existing structures. It is not one of Saarinen's best designs (I'm fond of the TWA terminal, myself). So it should go. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments





Thursday, October 16, 2008


Architecture and Happiness: Goleta Pier
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe what you remember from your recent visit to Europe or Chicago is the great buildings listed in the tourist guide. Or are you remembering postcards and photographs of them instead? ... But maybe what you remember with the most pleasure from your visit -- what you can still feel deep in your very own cells; what you really took away, for your very own self -- is the pleasure of breakfast at an out-of-the-way cafe, or the view down an unnamed alley, or leaning over a bridge and watching a river go by, or just enjoying the comfort of your hotel room's bed for a long lazy morning. Those are architectural experiences of worth too. Why aren't they recognized and discussed as such? A good architectural question: Why did you enjoy a long lazy morning in one hotel room and not in another? Architecture in the usual unique-masterpiece-torn- from-its-context sense involves too much self-consciousness, too much learning. It's unnatural, and it often doesn't correspond to our actual experiences of places. Architecture came into focus for me when I woke up to the fact that there was no reason to limit my interest to masterpieces and geniuses, let alone to buildings ripped from their context. Instead, I could let myself take in the entire built environment. Like that, parks, streets, the spaces between buildings, farms, trees, lawns, barns, and towns opened up to me as "architecture" too. I've been a happy (instead of a frustrated) fan ever since, with my eyes open nearly all the time to where I am and to what's around me. In fact, I often get so absorbed by the spaces between the masterpieces that I overlook the masterpieces. Between you and me, I don't generally find this to be any big loss. Which bring me to the no-masterpiece-but-still-wonderful structure I want to show off today: Goleta Pier, sometimes known as More's Landing, a pier off a beach about 10 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, near Isla Vista. Let me take you on a quick tour, showing off some of the pier's virtues. For starters: The Pier interacts well with its environment: It punctuates the bay, and brings out its natural qualities, the way spices used well don't cover up a dish's major ingredients but instead complement them and show them off. Imagine this bay and beach without Goleta Pier. It'd be a lovely place still, but perhaps somewhat less defined and less memorable. The pier works -- it has "interest" -- not just from one distance and from one point of view. It's interesting and engaging from numerous angles, and from numerous points of view. Open secret: A common failing of modernist buildings is that, while they can have a lot of visual impact, they often have their full effect only when seen from one or two specific places. They aren't engineered for the use of 3D people, each of whom has his own purposes. Instead,... posted by Michael at October 16, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Sunday, October 12, 2008


Safdie Designs a Gallery
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently wrote about Ottawa and Moshe Safdie. Now I'll combine the two by discussing his National Gallery of Canada building in Ottawa. To set the scene, here are the photos I took of it. Gallery This is the National Gallery as seen from near the Parliament building (to get some orientation, see the pictures in the first link, above). The following two pictures are interior views of the long, glazed wall and the glazed tower on the corner of the structure. This is what that glazed wall looks like from the inside. As you see, it's actually a gallery of sorts, the left side being windows with a view of Parliament Hill. The floor is a long ramp leading up to the glass tower and the first art galleries floor. This is the interior of the glass tower as seen from the upper art gallery floor. A coffee shop dining area is on the first level. And there is a fine view of Parliament Hill to savor. The National Gallery opened 1988 to a positive review by Paul Goldberger of The New York Times. My opinion is that the southern exterior, the one shown in the photo, holds the most interest; the rest of the building that I saw (I didn't walk around it, so might have missed a few things) is rather bland and nothing special. The best thing Safdie did was realize that, in many respects, the view from the building is almost as important as the view of the building. Hence the sloping-ramp gallery and glazed tower. These are two structural instances where Modernism can work well, though I can imagine some traditionally-based solutions that might work about as well. I wasn't happy with the layout of the main gallery wing. That might have had to do with the fact that we had a time budget of around an hour and I especially wanted to see the museum's display of Tom Thompson and Group of Seven artists. The trouble is, that particular display was diagonally opposite the glazed tower area entry to the galleries so, map in hand, I had to work my way around lots of less important stuff to get where I wanted to go. The layout is basically a racetrack pattern with two large galleries in the middle and a limited number of cross-paths. I would have preferred more entry points than the ones from the tower corner. The layout is simply too constrictive, too controlled. I recognize that there is probably no ideal museum layout, though my gut feeling is that a central entry with a set of branching-out points (perhaps along with peripheral race-tracks) might be better than alternatives. My take is that Safdie made visitor circulation subservient to his ramp-and-tower concept. All of which is not to say that it's a botched job. The museum is okay. The nice views are counterbalanced by a flawed circulation design. The exterior could easily be improved, but... posted by Donald at October 12, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments





Saturday, October 11, 2008


Ottawa Isn't Rome
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rome -- Imperial and Renaissance -- seems to have been on the minds of architects and planners of Washington, D.C. and many state capitals in the United States. Domes, columns, pilasters and other Classical details abound. Ottawa, Canada's capital, took a different architectural route. Perhaps it was a slackening interest in classically-inspired styles such as Greek Revival and growing interest in Romanesque and Gothic styles (probably thanks to London's rebuilt Parliament). At any rate, Parliament Hill is utterly different from Washington's Mall. The above link offers a useful historical overview, so I'll sketch only some points needed to set the scene for my photos below. Ottawa was designated Canada's capital in 1859, some eight years before the British North America Act of 1867 created what essentially is modern Canada (as opposed to colonial Canada). Among the factors for Ottawa's selection was that it was comparatively safe from attacks by the United States. That's because Ottawa is situated at the point where the Rideau Canal reaches the Ottawa River. The canal was completed in 1832 to preserve Canadian logistical connections in the event of yet another U.S. invasion. (Water-borne communications -- key, before railroads -- between Toronto and Montréal had been along the St. Lawrence River, a stretch of which borders on the United States.) The canal is about 125 miles long, 12 of which had to be dug and the rest being existing waterways. Once completed, boats and barges from Toronto could exit Lake Ontario at Kingston, take the canal to Ottawa and then head downstream on the Ottawa River, reaching the St. Lawrence just upstream from Montréal, totally avoiding the U.S. border. Topographically, Ottawa has Parliament Hill which forms a bluff overlooking the Ottawa River. Across the river is Gatineau, Québec which is part of the capital area. The east end of Parliament Hill drops off to the Rideau Canal near where it joins the river. On the other side of the canal is the Rideau area which offers the points from where I took some of the photos. Gallery Sighting down Wellington Street. Don't see any marble or columns. A comparatively recent addition to the Parliament Hill complex is the Supreme Court building. The white façade is out of character, but the roof isn't. Here is the centerpiece of the hill -- the Parliament Building. And this is a view of its backside taken from the Rideau area. The building in the foreground with the tapered roof is the library, which escaped the fire that destroyed the previous parliament structure. Same viewpoint, less zoom. The light colored building on the left is the Hotel Laurier, one of Canada's great railroad hotels. It was built by the Grand Trunk Railway which was later merged into the Canadian National. The light structure at water level is the first lock of the Rideau Canal. The Laurier as seen, seriously wide-angled, from across Rideau Street. The Rideau Canal as seen from the bridge to the left... posted by Donald at October 11, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments





Tuesday, October 7, 2008


How Does One Paint a Martian Princess?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs created many more characters than the Ape Man and Jane. Over the years, I've probably read more of the John Carter of Mars series than Tarzan books. Burroughs invented the supposed local name for the planet, "Barsoom," and some sources refer to the series by that name. In brief, John Carter gets wafted off to Mars while in a sort of dream-state while lying helpless in a cave in the desert southwest. Being pretty heroic to begin with, he is able to exploit his Earth-based strength in the weaker Martian gravity to perform seriously heroic feats while the entranced reader hurriedly flips the pages. Most or all of the Mars books are in the public domain. For instance, you can click here for the on-line Project Gutenberg release of A Princess of Mars, the first in the series. In that book, Carter encounters the beautiful Dejah Thoris, princess of one of Mars' kingdoms, who he eventually marries. Okay. Assume that a new edition of the book is on the way. Cover art is needed. Lots of strange, dangerous Martian creatures. A sword-wielding hero. A gorgeous princess. A different planet. What should the cover artist do? As it happened, most or all of the above elements have been included by just about every cover artist hired for the Mars series. Some examples are below. Gallery By Frank Schoonover - 1917 Schoonover, a top-notch illustrator, was trained by Howard Pyle in the early years of the last century. The scene looks vaguely Greco-Persian aside from what appear to be pistols on Carter's belt. Although he did advertising illustration and book covers such as the one shown, Schoonover's specialty was North Woods type scenes, this based on travels he made north of the Great Lakes around the time he left Pyle's school. Barsoom is far from the world of trappers and the RCMP -- and it shows, in this early cover. By Robert Abbett - c. 1970 I suppose this was intended to be dramatic. But c'mon -- the princess seems bored or distracted rather than terrified or even concerned about the outcome of John Carter's fight. A recent Penguin edition A recent Townsend Press edition In both cases, I wasn't able to find artist information. The Penguin cover seems more skillfully done. Like the Abbett illustration, we have a struggle going on, but Dejah Thoris clearly is not really part of that scene, even factoring in her shackles. The Townsend illustration doesn't show that she is the most beautiful creature on Mars; she hardly seems worth fighting for. Oh well, enough farm team stuff. On to the goodies. Frank Frazetta - c.1970 Frazetta practically owns the fantasy art franchise even though he has been retired for several years. Dejah Thoris and John Carter come off appropriately iconic. And if Carter's duel is already over ... well, who really cares; I'm too busy checking out Dejah. I bought this circa 1963 book... posted by Donald at October 7, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments




Habitat 67 Today
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On our recent trip to Canada we allotted two full days for Montreal. Since Nancy had never been there, I largely let her determine what we would visit. Had we spent another day or two in town, a site I might have gotten around to seeing would have been Moshe Safdie's Habitat '67, built in conjunction with Expo 67, Montreal's world's fair of 1967. Or maybe not: it would depend on if I could be free to wander around it above ground level. As it was, the closest I got to it was the edge of the old town Montreal where I snapped the following picture. About all it proves is that Habitat still exists. For more on Habitat '67, the Wikipedia entry is here. A web page with lots of photos, some links and other information is here. Habitat '67 was the subject of a lot of attention when it was built. I know it intrigued me because my take was that it featured orthodox modernism in the form of rectangular modules that were combined in what appeared to be an organic manner. Lazy me, I haven't followed up on the fate of Habitat nor have I paid much attention to Safdie's later career (I will write a post on his Ottawa National Gallery soon, however). No doubt Habitat inspired other architects to try out some of Safdie's concepts. Even so, I haven't noticed many (or any) Habitats were I live or travel. Can any readers bring me and the rest of us up to speed? How is the original Habitat doing? Since it's not a publicly subsidized and operated project, presumably residents chose to move there and would be predisposed to like it -- but do they, once the novelty has worn off? And how well does the place function? For instance, is it easy for residents to haul groceries or new pieces of furniture up to their apartments? Why havn't we seen lot of Habitat-like structures? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 7, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments





Monday, October 6, 2008


Stores With Art Books
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now that I'm retired, my book-buying budget has taken a serious hit. Good thing I scarfed a bunch of art books while I was still working. That combination of having built up a pretty good library and having to watch my pennies doesn't mean I don't keep browsing. It means that I'm better at resisting a diminishing amount of temptation. Nowadays my problem is that the really nice, interesting art books are often pretty expensive -- in the $65-$100+ range when I start to get the cold shakes around $55. Leaving aside the Internet, finding decent art books in stores can be chancy. I've probably mentioned several times that even big-box stores such as Barnes & Noble vary considerably in their wares. An ordinary B&N might only have one or two shelf sections devoted to a combination of art crit, art history, painter biographies, how-to books and perhaps some photography titles. But B&Ns near college campuses or upscale neighborhoods can have much larger art sections. Perhaps the largest arts-related bookstore I've encountered is Hennessy & Ingalls in Santa Monica. Aside from there, museum stores at major art museums usually offer good selections. You can get a discount if you are a museum member, and they can have sales from time to time. On my recent trip to the Northeast and Canada I managed to duck into some museum stores. Here's what I found. Boston's Museum of Fine Arts had a very nice store, meaning that the selection was plentiful. I walked out with a not very costly book about British Impressionism. On the other hand, the Museé National des Beaux-Arts du Québec shop was small and had few books of any kind. The Museé des Beaux-Arts de Montréal was much better. Plenty of books. And a large share of them in French -- a nice thing if you want to learn more about not-so-famous-but-good French artists. I shagged two books about Maurice Denis. Also good was the shop at Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada. I bought small books about Tom Thompson and Clarence Gagnon. We also visited the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario which sports two small Rembrandts and some Group of Seven works. But the shop was small and there were few books. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 6, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Saturday, October 4, 2008


Canadian Spaces
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today I'd like to toss out for your inspection two places I recently photographed in Canada. The only connection I'll make is that I liked one site and hated the other. Of course, you are free to make comparisons and contrasts. Here is some grist for such activity. The first site is Montreal's Olympic Park, built for the 1976 games. It's still used for sports events, but traffic has to be less than even a couple of years ago before the Expos baseball team decamped to Washington, D.C. One Olympic structure has been converted into a kind of wintergarden containing nature displays; it's now called the Biodome. The architetcure on the site is a sort of non-retro postmodernist -- there's lots of reinforced concrete, but the signature buildings are sculptural rather than geometric. The other site is the new (opened 2004) Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls. It's privately owned and managed, but the province of Ontario gets a cut of the profits. Las Vegas abandoned the gambling factory casino style about 20 years ago for semi-traditional architecture and lots of flash to wow the tourists and players. The Fallsview budget was probably less than that of the Bellagio, but the designers gave it a good try. Here are some photos. Gallery Olympic Park -- Montreal Perhaps the best-known structures in Olympic Park are the Biodome (left), the Olympic Stadium (hidden) and its tower (right) that supports its roof. A funicular car takes passengers to the top of the tower where there is an observation room. Looking down at the Biodome from the observation station. Another ground-level view of the Biodome. Its grounds are basically a large paved surface interrupted by those potted trees and the flag area. Looking towards the left we can see ... In principle, large crowds need to be accommodated on occasion, but these spaces are sterile. Fallsview Casino Resort -- Niagara Falls, Ontario Here is a view of the part of the exterior facing the falls. Near the street entrance is this sculpture evoking electrical power generation related to the falls, a heritage of the casino site. Those circular objects near the base aren't car tires; they do turn, representing dynamos driven by water turbines. At the top are cables representing power lines. Another view of the court near the sculpture. These design evokes late 19th century industrial Art Nouveau. This was taken just inside the hotel entrance indicated to the right of the previous photo. The theme shifts towards the classical. View of the shopping arcade. Note the dark band of Louis Sullivan-like Art Nouveau reliefs above the windows. The interior of the rounded atrium shown in the first photo. This is at the shops level; escalators towards the left-center lead down to a food court level and the exit to the falls viewing terrace. My verdict: given a choice, I'd much prefer to hang out at the casino (I don't gamble). And your take? (Comments on changing... posted by Donald at October 4, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Thursday, October 2, 2008


Art Book Pictures Are Fine, But ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have a lot of books about art -- painting and illustration, actually. The quality of the reproductions in the newer ones is a lot better than it was for the old books. Even if the printer was in a back alley someplace in Ceylon, the quality seems pretty good. (Yes, I know the place is now called Sri Lanka or some such moniker. But my choice of place-names happens to be whimsical with a tendency to favor the names I learned when young. Bombay, anyone? Burma? Chungking? Peking or maybe Beiping? However, I much prefer St. Petersburg to Leningrad -- but hey! St. Pete came first, right?) Anyway, before I distracted myself I was about to make the point that I rely heavily on the color reproductions for understanding the works and to form judgments. That's because I have little choice. Seattle's far more big-time than it was when I was growing up, but its art museums aren't yet first-rate. So to experience lots of top-notch painting, I need to travel to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington or major European cities. Those of you living in the BosWash corridor really have it lucky if you're art fans. When traveling, I prefer strolling city streets to museum-going. But if I have the time and there's a major museum handy, I'll step in and check out the galleries that interest me. On my recent visit to Boston, I finally made it to the Museum of Fine Arts. It's undergoing expansion, so I don't know how representative the displays were. My main goal was to see what they had in the way of John Singer Sargent's work, and I had a few other items in mind. Among the hangings were: Gallery Isabella and the Pot of Basil -- John White Alexander, 1897 This was one of those "other" paintings. I'm pleased that it was on view and not in storage. Promise of Spring -- Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1890 Boston was the first city we visited on a 16-day trip, and traveling tends to give me a memory-wipe. I definitely saw a Tadema, and I'm almost sure this was the one. A small painting, and not one of his best. Still, Bravo! to the MFA for displaying an artist whose works were laughed at 50 years ago. A Caprioti -- John Singer Sargent, 1878 I didn't have to travel all the way to Boston to see this one: a near-duplicate is in a Seattle collection and was on display recently at the Seattle Art Museum. This is one of a series of paintings Sargent made on a visit to Capri. Mrs Fiske Warren and Daughter Rachel -- John Singer Sargent, 1903 One of Sargent's later society paintings. It's a little high-key for my taste, but I was fascinated by his brushwork on the clothing. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit -- John Singer Sargent, 1882 In recent years, art critics and commentators have allowed themselves to get... posted by Donald at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Tuesday, September 30, 2008


A False Future Glimpsed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Towards the end of my high school career I'd often hop a bus for downtown after school and get off near the Seattle Public Library's main branch, an old, gray Carnegie donation. Then I'd spend an hour or so browsing the art, architecture and some other sections before walking the two blocks to my father's office to hitch a ride home with him. Most of the architecture books I studied dealt with Modernism, and I had totally bought into its ideology/religion at that time. Maybe one reason I did so was because hardly any significant Modernist structures had been built in Seattle by the mid-1950s, so I had no idea of the visual damage they would cause. The International Style (the Museum of Modern Art's name for it) buildings I saw were in the form of drawings, models and photos in books and architecture magazines. They looked clean and exciting. Particularly seductive was the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Here is one of his proposals from around 1920. This sort of thing would give my college architectural history professor heart throbs. Form following function. Truth to materials. And you can see it all! Clearly!! Too bad for Mies and the Prof that real buildings almost never came off that way. Except at night when rooms are lighted, glass-clad buildings simply reflect stuff, a characteristic more recent architects have exploited. Nevertheless, once in a while one can glimpse in reality what van der Rohe and his kind had intended. Below is a recent photo I took of a building under construction in Toronto. Lighting conditions were just right to give it the effect Mies was striving for. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 30, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments





Friday, September 19, 2008


Annabella at 15
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A spin-off from my recent posting about Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" ... Here's the website of Annabella Lwin, the onetime jailbait-sexpot singer for Bow Wow Wow. Here's the record jacket that made her notorious even in punk circles. Be forewarned: Annabella was only 15 when that sexy photo was taken. What ought to be made of the under-ageness question? Do we have no choice but to draw a line and condemn the image as evil? Despite the fact that it's funny and cute? Despite the fact that it has already attained minor-modern-icon semi-immortality? And despite the fact that the punk scene was teeming with lovably trampy 15 year old girls? Bonus point: The girl in "Mademoiselle O'Murphy," aka "Nude on a Sofa," was 14 at the time Boucher painted her. Kiddie cheesecake? Or a classic work of art? Shortly after the painting was completed Louis XV took the little charmer as a mistress. Read more here. So what kind of misbehavior-slack do we need to cut the arts scene? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2008 | perma-link | (39) comments





Tuesday, September 16, 2008


More Scruton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a beautiful, many-sided, and stimulating new interview (conducted by Diederik Boomsma) with the British philosopher Roger Scruton. Islam, architecture, conservatism, the nation-state ... Loads going on here. One of many fab passages: Question: If modern architecture and modern art is so ugly and devoid of meaning, why don't more people criticize and oppose it? Answer: Everybody criticizes modern art and architecture except the professional critics who know on which side their bread is buttered. We are returning to a more humane architecture, thanks to Leon Krier, et al., and the New Urbanist movement. What would it take? Enlightened patronage, such as displayed by the Prince of Wales; a spirit of defiance towards pseuds like Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind, a willingness to tell the truth about people like the fascist Le Corbusier and the communist Gropius, and a decision finally to say that the city is ours, not theirs. Bonus points: Another long interview with Scruton. A blogposting I wrote about how rewarding I've found it to wrestle with the thoughts of humane conservatives. I'm no conservative myself, but I've certainly learned a lot from exploring the works of smart and classy righties. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments





Thursday, September 11, 2008


Choosing a How-to-Paint Book
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've griped more than once on this blog about my lousy art training: here, for instance. The consequence when I decided to take up painting again as I was about to retire was that I ran out and bought a how-to-paint book. Then I bought another. And another. Must have 20 of the darn things now. Since it seems that I'm finally improving at little at painting, I've cut down on such purchases. Along the way, I discovered that they don't always agree with one another. This is understandable because painting, believe it or not, is an art, not a science. Another reason for cutting down on purchases is that there's a lot of agreement between the books (along with those differences), so any new purchase usually yields a large amount of redundancy. After all, painting can be as much a craft as an art, and the purpose of those books is to provide time-tested rules-of-thumb such as "thick over thin" for painting in oils. Nowadays, I tend to look for books that deal with specific aspects of art that I know I need to work on (such as clothing and how fabrics drape). Otherwise, I'll thumb through a book to look at the author's style of painting. If the style doesn't interest or impress me, I probably won't buy the book. But if I find the style interesting and wish that I could incorporate aspects of it in my own work, I'm likely to swipe the plastic through the card reader or call up the amazon.com site and add the tome to my too-large collection. (Hmm. Next time I go to Powell's in Portland, I ought to bring some of the losers along and try to sell them.) This book by British painter David Curtis is an example of a how-to book I bought because the author's style impressed me. Here are some examples of his work I found on the Internet. Some are found in the book, but the book contains others that I find even more interesting. Gallery I don't have a title for this. Curtis is mostly a landscape guy, but does the occasional portrait. Moorings on the Chesterfield Canal Pembrokeshire Sea Cliffs, Port St. Justinian Rocky Cove, Lleyn Peninsula Rooftops and Cliffs, Staithes Fine Autumn Day, Clayworth Wharf Vintage Car Workshop Strikes me as an oils version of Frank Wootton's charcoal automobile drawings. You can't really tell from the sampling above, but Curtis tends to dramatize his paintings by selecting a sun angle that approaches backlighting. Neat trick, though it can become a crutch or habit. One dark secret he didn't reveal was how he does those thin lines needed to depict ships' rigging; I'd love to know that. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 11, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments





Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Book Draft Snippet
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still chipping away on that proposal for a book about non-Modenist painting since 1900. I have two sample chapters drafted and am working on a chapter that is intended to set the stage before dealing with the art I wish to highlight. I'm finding that this is akin to writing the state-of-things chapter of a Masters thesis or Ph.D. dissertation. Slow, nasty work; it's rather like trying to pull chickens' teeth. At any rate, it finally seems to be shaping up so I'd thought I'd toss out a paragraph for you to ponder. No guarantee that it'll even be in the draft I mail to publishers; and if it's panned, I'll probably jerk it. In preceding paragraphs I suggest that paintings with staying power are likely to be connected to life experiences common across centuries. I continue with ... Now, I expect some readers to recoil in shock and accuse me of implying that for art to “last,” it must appeal to the lowest common denominator of emotion and taste. I made no such implication, but raise the matter of popularity at this point because it is one of those issues that is constantly present, yet seldom in the forefront of discussions about art. To condemn something for being popular is a form of elitism stemming from the belief that the very best art is a rare thing. So far, so good, regarding the art itself; excellent examples of anything are rare by definition because if they were not excellent they would be good, average or not good -- most things being near average. Where elitism goes wrong is when some elitists think that the same thing holds with regard to art appreciation and that it is they who know best and the other 90 percent or whatever share of the population does not and probably cannot properly appreciate art and whose preferences in art should be dismissed as naïve or even boorish. While it is true that some people put more effort in appreciating art than others, it does not follow that the heavy appreciators necessarily have the best taste; it is possible that they have gotten themselves so wrapped up in theories and wanting to be part of an “in-group” that the art they are supposedly appreciating becomes a secondary matter. I hope to launch the proposal after I get back from a trip to Boston, Québec, etc. Let me thank vanderleun for some thought-provoking tips regarding the publishing industry. But if I screw this up, it it'll be my fault, not his. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 2, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Friday, August 29, 2008


Questions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A line of questions for the day, prompted by this typically beyond-absurd Nicolai Ouroussoff piece from the NYTimes: Why are mainstream architecture critics so focused on such a narrow sliver of building-activity and aesthetic experience? And why are they so averse to taking note of life as it's actually lived? Translated into action, this latter question might lead a critic to -- oh, I don't know -- pass up the latest Gehry or Hadid and instead visit the malls, developments, schools, restaurants, and parks that real people really interact with, learning about and from them, and offering critiques and appreciations. A pretty radical thought, I know ... And -- further! -- why are civilians (and editors, who are supposed to represent the interests of their readers) so willing to put up with this kind of twee carrying-on? Funny how certain kinds of kooky behavior can become the expected thing, isn't it? For example, we take it for granted that an architecture critic should be spending most of his column inches pontificating about the likes of Steven Holl. Yet if the Times' food coverage only concerned the latest $500-a-plate chic eateries -- neglecting cheaper places, farmer's markets, home cooking, etc -- we'd all be having daily laughs at the expense of the newspaper's clueless and pompous twerpery. Further comparisons: What if a magazine's "music coverage" only took in the latest bits of spikey experimentalism? Of if its "movie coverage" paid attention only to the hottest expressions of post-avant-garde-ism? All of which makes me wonder: Where architecture and architecture criticism are concerned, why don't we have a more active (perhaps even a "vibrant") let's-ridicule-these- snobs-out-of-existence movement in the blogosphere? My hunch of an answer: Since many people spend zero time taking note of their environment, it never occurs to them to search out quality conversation about it. Too bad. Link thanks to the smart, funny, and quirky Gil Roth, who has recently been reading Montaigne and enjoying the company of Rufus the daffy and irresistible greyhound. For some reason, when I try to link to Gil's site, the effort torpedos this posting. Gil's site, which otherwise behaves perfectly well, is at: http://chimeraobscura.com Get to know Rufus at: http://chimeraobscura.com/vm/dog-days/ Go and visit. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Munich's Master Poster Artist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- He wasn't a professional painter. I don't even know if he painted as a hobby. So I can't call him a Peripheral Painter for that reason. Nor can I call him "peripheral" because his work is well known to poster-art buffs. On the other hand, even though New York's Museum of Modern Art has a few of his posters in its collection, his work wasn't avant-garde enough to satisfy modernist purists. That and the fact that he did posters for government agencies during Hitler's regime in Germany. The artist in question is Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) who began his studies as an architect, but made his career as a Munich-based poster artist. I haven't been able to find much biographical information about him aside from here and here. The second link is to Paul Giambarba's illustration site, which is well worth perusal. Below are examples of Hohlwein's work. The Giambarba link has some of these as well as other examples. Many more can be seen by googling on Ludwig Hohlwein and then linking to Images. Gallery Combination of a top poster artist and top automobile. Makes me want to dash off and buy that car. (Hope it has air conditioning, a six-speed automatic transmission, a GPS and good fuel economy.) "Spring in Wiesbaden" seems to be a travel ad from just before or after the Great War. Hohlwein was born in Wiesbaden, which might have provided added incentive to do a really nice job. Speaking of the Great War, this is an advertisement from early in the conflict (to judge by the helmet) for some kind of "strength and energy" confection. A portable typewriter advertisement, probably from the 1920s. Much of Hohlwein's work, including this, seems to have been done using watercolor washes. Note the skillful portrayal of facial and other planes. Advertising a line of mens' clothing. Another fashion poster, but probably late in his career if the dress is any clue.. The swastika tells us this was done during World War 2. I'm not sure why Hohlwein portrays what appears to be a bare-chested man wearing a stahlhelm (steel helmet) and holding onto a pole of some sort. The caption translates literally as "air protection" or "air security" which might refer to an air warden or air defense -- though wehr might be a better word than schutz for the latter meaning. This is a detail from a poster advertising a brand of cigarettes. I think this is an extremely skillful piece of work. My only quibble is the low spot on the hair above the forehead that seems to be too low to accommodate the likely shape of the woman's head. On the other hand, it's likely Hohlwein worked from a photo to get the facial shading, so who knows? Oh do I wish I had Hohlwein's drawing and watercolor skills!! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 26, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Monday, August 25, 2008


Manny Farber, RIP
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was very sorry to learn that the painter and film critic Manny Farber has died. He was 91. I loved his art (a few examples are here) and his criticism. The Wife and I spent a little time hanging out with Manny and his wife, the artist Patricia Patterson (they often wrote together), and I can report that I found him a lovable guy: spikey, difficult, and maybe even a little paranoid, but brainy, funny, and soulful too. There can't be many critics who made as big an impact on a medium with a single volume of writing as Manny did on movies with his legendary "Negative Space." But, as far as I could tell, his heart was really in painting. Half of him may have been a wisecracking, off-center, neurotic intellectual -- but his bigger half was a color-drunk west coast sensualist. Some highlights from the press and the blogosphere: David Chute offers some personal reflections, a lot of quotes, and a sensible evaluation. A 2006 Duncan Shepard memoir of his friendship with Manny and Patricia is also a fine snapshot of an amazing era in American art. Michael Sragow recalls his own friendship with Manny. Carrie Rickey recalls Manny's influence, as well as his impact as a teacher. Robert Pincus offers an appreciation of Manny's art and supplies a good short biography of him too. Green Cine Daily rounds up many more links. In sadness, Michael... posted by Michael at August 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Thursday, August 21, 2008


The Alexander Effect
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- James Kunstler confesses that it didn't all come together for him until he read Christopher Alexander and Andres Duany. I've run into professional architects who have told me similar things -- that they were out there, practicing architecture for a living, yet they didn't really "get it" until they stumbled across Alexander's great "A Pattern Language" and / or his equally-great "The Timeless Way of Building." "Suburban Nation" -- by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck -- is pretty damn mind-opening too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments





Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Homage to a Catalan
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If I were ordered to produce a league table for nations with respect to Western painting as reported in standard art history narratives, the Big Three would be Italy, Holland/Flanders and France. At or near the top of the following rank would be Spain, largely thanks to Velásquez, El Greco and Goya in pre-Modern days. In more recent times, regardless of what one thinks of their work or personalities, it's impossible to deny that two of the most famous 20th century painters were Spanish: Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Dalí was Catalan, Picasso spent his mid-teen years in Barcelona, Joan Miró was from Barcelona, and Hermen Anglada (who I wrote about here) also was from Barcelona. Catalonia, in Spain's northeast, has been uncomfortably Spanish. Catalans have their own dialect, which causes friction with the rest of the country. The region's proximity to France helps make it more "European" than distant parts of the country. These matters and others are treated in the book Barcelona 1900 which deals with the tug of mainstream European avant-garde art and architecture on Barcelona's artistic community. An artist featured in that book is Ramon Casas i Carbó. I wasn't aware of him, but liked his work and thought I'd show you some examples. For biographical information, click on the link above. Gallery Après le Bal - 1895 Before Bathing - c.1895 Madeleine - n.d. From the name, it was probably done in Paris. Mujer Conduciendo - early 1900s This "woman driver" looks like it might be intended for a poster. Julia Peraire portrait - c.1907 Julia was his model, later mistress, and eventual wife. Julia sketch - early 1900s In 1906 he met Julia Peraire who was born around 1888. I wonder a little if this is the same Julia because the woman looks older than 18 and the style of clothing she is wearing was on the way out in 1906. Portrait sketch of Pablo Picasso I'm tossing this in just to show that Casas could depict males. Actually, he did a lot of drawings and paintings of men, but I like looking at his women better. Sketch of woman Lautrec-like, but not so caricatured. Sifilis poster Casas did a good deal of poster art. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 19, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Sunday, August 17, 2008


Less-Forgotten Painters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Regular readers know that from time to time I write postings about painters who can be unknown to people who took Modernist-centered art history classes in college (myself especially included). My impression is that many of these neglected painters are beginning to be pinged by cultural gatekeeper sonar. Impressions are one thing and numbers are another, usually better, means of trend-tracking. And I have some numbers. Not great numbers, but better than nothing. What I did was grab a couple of "art and artists" "dictionaries" (I'm cribbing from two nearly identical titles) and compared the artists they covered with those I wrote about. The first book is the Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 7th Edition. It was first published in 1959 and the 7th Edition came out in England in 1997. Only Giovanni Boldini and Jules Bastien-Le Page have their own entries. The other book is the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art & Artists, 3rd Edition. The first edition appeared in 1990 and the latest in 2003. Artists I wrote about that were mentioned are Cecilia Beaux, Boldini, Albert Edelfelt, Axel Gallèn, Philip de Laszlo, Helene Schjerfbeck, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla and Mikhail Vrubel. The Oxford book has about 650 pages and the Penguin only 580, but that difference is too small to account for the disparity in citations. The Penguin edition is only six years older than the Oxford one, but the first editions are separated by 31 years, which might (or might not) be a factor with greater impact than the tastes of the compilers. A better test would be to compare various editions of the books to see how many of my "peripheral" artists were added over time. Unfortunately, I don't have earlier editions handy. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 17, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments





Friday, August 15, 2008


'Burb Thoughts, Info, Questions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I dropped this comment on a recent posting about Bill Kauffman, Fred Reed, and James Kunstler. Since the commentsthread was dying out, and since I'm curious about how people will respond to some of my points, I'm reprinting it here. It's good to be blog-host. Was somebody arguing that all malls are bad? Let alone that Fred Reed, James Kunstler and Bill Kauffman are philosophers? I missed those parts of the posting. One fact that a surprising number of you bright people seem unaware of is that post-WWII US suburbia is anything but a spontaneous creation of the free market. There were suburbs before WWII, god knows. And the movement of some people from the city to the edges outside the city is apparently a constant in history. But post-WWII US suburbia -- collector roads, cul de sacs, strict zoning separating retail, industry, and residential, and zero access to public transportation -- is something quite distinct, and quite a weird, never-before- seen-on-the-face- of-the-planet type creature. Post-WWII suburbia is at least partly (if not largely) a function of a number of factors: government guarantees for home-mortgage loans; government sponsorship of freeway building (often said to be the largest civil engineering project in all history); a government-sponsored attack on city downtowns in the form of "urban renewal," which destroyed thousands of neighborhoods and hundreds of thousands of residences, and which forcibly displaced millions of citizens from their homes; and a handy-dandy tacit agreement between government and industry to support and encourage car culture. Notice how many times the word "government" appears in the above paragraph. OK, few people were forcibly moved to the new 'burbs (though some millions were indeed forcibly removed from their traditional city homes). But 1) that's a lot of carrots and sticks the country's elites were applying to its populace, and 2) that's a lot of top-down social engineering. Viewing post-WWII American suburbia as "normal," let alone as something that developed spontaneously out of people's freely expressed preferences, is like ... oh, I don't know, arguing that Cheetos grow on trees. They may be your personal favorite treat-- but your fondness for Cheetos is not a trustworthy guarantee that Cheetos grow on trees. In fact, they're the product of a lot of food engineering. Which of course is OK. But let's at least recognize that there are a few differences between an apple and a Cheeto. Now, would many people have moved to whatever kinds of 'burbs would have developed had the government not interfered, and if we'd all been left to our own devices? Could well be. Hard to know. A couple of questions for you market types? (I'm one myself, with some reservations.) 1) You're moving to a new city area. You're going to have to choose a place to live. We could think of you as a "housing consumer" shopping for a "housing product" in something called the "housing market." In and around many American cities the housing products... posted by Michael at August 15, 2008 | perma-link | (46) comments





Thursday, August 14, 2008


Fred and Bill
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Two super-eloquent writers check in with some thoughts about place. Fred Reed riffs on a theme familiar to those who have read James Kunstler's rants about cities, towns, and sprawl. (Kunstler blogs here. Here's an especially lively recent posting. Bookwise, start with this eye-opener.) Great passage: I am not religious, at least in the sense of believing that I have the answers, but I am religious in the sense of knowing the questions. I know that there are things we can’t know, things even more important than making partner before the age of thirty. Doubtless most of us know this. Yet the tenor of life is not easily escaped. We try. People rush to Europe in search of the old, the quiet, and the pretty. Peddlers of real estate understand the urge, and hawk tranquil rural life while building the malls that will make it impossible. And so hurry comes to Arcadia. People then think of escape to the next small town. We spend a remarkable amount of time fleeing ourselves. Maybe instead we should build a place we like. Bill Kauffman writes to the local paper about the damage a mall did to his beloved hometown of Batavia, NY. (CORRECTION: The Batavian isn't the "local paper." It's an online local-news website for Batavia.) Dandy passage: The mall ought to have been dispatched long ago to that circle of hell reserved for brutalist architecture. For 30-plus years it has been a monument to misplaced faith in big government and capital-p Progress. Urban renewal was a catastrophe for many American cities, Batavia not least among them. The demolition of old Batavia was a crime against our ancestors, ourselves, and our posterity. Kauffman link thanks to Dave Lull. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments





Sunday, August 10, 2008


Architecture and Urbanism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Architects go anti-modernism. * Should the federal government really be moving inner city residents to the suburbs? * How walkable is your neighborhood? My own scored 100 out of a possible 100. Have I mentioned that I haven't owned a car in over 30 years? * John Massengale isn't crazy about Beijing's Olympic architecture. A key passage: For every great monument like Bilbao, [contempo starchitecture] produces a thousand clunkers like Blue and San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. And 100,000 anti-urban clunkers in Las Vegas, Houston, and American sprawl in general. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the failures of architectural modernism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Read and Discuss
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In today's Leisure & Arts section of the Wall Street Journal, David Littlejohn registers his unhappiness with glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and the fact that the de Young Museum of San Francisco dared to install a major show of his work. I'm not sure how long the Journal keeps links live, so if you're interested in reading the entire article, click here soon. I happen to be something of a Littlejohn-skeptic. One reason is that he likes Rem Koolhaas' new Seattle Public Library main branch building and I hate the thing. (Yes, sensitive readers, I know that "Hate is Not a Family Value" but, alas, I sometimes allow my human weaknesses to come to the fore.) I also must report the fact that Chihuly and I overlapped briefly at the University of Washington's School of Art. But we didn't know of one another. That said, my assessment of Chihuly's work is a non-assessment -- I neither like it nor dislike it. Perhaps that's because, aside from rare instances, I'm indifferent to sculpture in a positive sense. But I can easily be negative about the silly stuff that passes as sculpture these days. Chihuly's works normally don't strike me as being silly, so I simply don't really react to them. ("Oh. That's probably a Chihuly, huh? Okay.") But the subject of this posting is not Dale Chihuly. It has to do with this paragraph from Littlejohn: The word most commonly used by Chihuly-fanciers to describe the works is "beautiful," a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists. Although some Chihuly objects appear snakelike or surreal, there is never anything troubling or challenging about them. It all looks strangely safe and escapist, even Disney-like, for art of our time. The writhing shapes and bright kaleidoscope of colors signify nothing but the undeniable skill of their crafters and the strange tastes of Mr. Chihuly. More specifically, I'm focusing on this sentence segment: "...'beautiful,' a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists." So he's saying that after 1885 or thereabouts, "serious" art has little or nothing to do with beauty and beauty has little or nothing to do with "serious" art? Discuss, if this interests you. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 6, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Sunday, August 3, 2008


Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Applies lipstick to pig ...] I suppose a good result of having had a standard Paris-centric art history course in college is that I can experience the surprise and enjoyment of discovering interesting painters who weren't mentioned in class. One such artist I recently stumbled across is Hermen Anglada-Camarasa (1871-1959). The most comprehensive biographical information I could find during a brief Web search is here -- a Spanish-language Wikipedia page. Spanish isn't one of my languages, so I hope the following career snippet isn't too far off the mark. Anglada was born in Barcelona, the part of Spain with closest ties to France. He studied painting in Spain and then spent some time in Paris. In 1913 he moved to the Balearic Islands and seems to have spent the rest of his career there. The important thing is his art, and here are some examples. Gallery Le Paon Blanc - 1904 Sonia - n.d. Granadina - n.d. Des nudo bajo a parra - 1909 Sibila - 1913 Pino de Formentor - n.d. Acantilado en Formentor - 1936 My first reaction is to call him a less-stylized version of Gustav Klimt. The paintings of the women don't suggest much in the way of psychological depth, something critics tend to consider important. Even so, I find Anglada's paintings fun to look at and wouldn't object if one magically appeared on a wall in our house. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 3, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments





Tuesday, July 29, 2008


A Dubious Yet Perhaps Provocative Comparison
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a cultureguy, I haven't been able to help being struck by something amidst all my low-carb readin'-and-research: the way the officially-endorsed low-fat gospel resembles the generally accepted view of the arts. It may work for a few, and it may have its theoretical appeal. But for the rest of us -- and on a day-to-day basis -- it may well be counterproductive, unhealthy, and perhaps even destructive. Interesting to learn that -- much like the conventional view of culture -- the low-fat gospel had its origins in the 1960s and 1970s. The idiotic Food Pyramid? That's something we owe to counterculture hero Sen. George McGovern. What to make of this? Semi-related: I made fun of what I called "the Arts Litany" back here; back here, I explained that our current conception of "literary fiction" is an artifact of the 1960s and 1970s. Here's one of my many bitch-fests about the New York Times Book Review and its bizarrely blinkered yet supposedly good-for-us vision of fiction. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Thursday, July 24, 2008


Foujita, the Serious Show-off
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paris in the 1920s was crammed with artists. A few, such as Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi and Léger are still famous or at least well-known to art fans. Many never got much notoriety and are deeply buried in the footnotes of art history. Then there was a middle group whose members were fairly well known at the time but whose reputations since have fluctuated at best or, more often, slowly faded. How many of you have heard of Kees van Dongen (from the Netherlands), Moïse Kisling (Poland), Jules Pascin (Bulgaria) and a Japanese import who was usually called by his family name, Foujita (French spelling -- the English version is Fujita). All four expatriates were party animals. I first encountered them in this book, a photo-filled tour of the Paris art world of the first 30 years of the last century. The book uses famed model, singer (sort of), writer (an autobiography), painter (amateur) and art world personality (huge!!) Kiki (née Alice Prin) as its title's centerpiece even though she didn't arrive on the scene until the early 1920s and became artist-photographer Man Ray's muse and mistress. Furthermore, pages and pictures devoted to Kiki are a small share of the total. That's okay, because the rest of the cast is an amusing and often, eventually, tragic lot that I, at least, find fascinating. As for Foujita, we find him at Kiki's book-signing party (p. 189), And there's a spread (pp. 180-81) devoted to him. Photos include three of him and third wife "Youki" (née Lucie Badoud, who later married poet Robert Desnos), one a portrait, another a publicity shot in his studio and one of them on the beach at Deauville. Another Deauville photo has Foujita and famed musical hall star Mistinguette hugging. Yet another shows him with singer Suzy Solidor on a beach wearing beach costumes he designed and made. Finally, there's a photo of Foujita riding a mini-bicycle along a boardwalk. Page 175 shows him playing drum for a miniature-circus performance by Alexander Calder (of later mobile fame) in his (Foujita's) studio. There's another spread (pp. 150-51) with a photo of the building where his fancy studio was located, and another of Youki, the expensive Ballot automobile Foujita bought her with their Basque chauffeur. Other pictures are of Foutjna vacationing in the Pyrenees and of painting Anna de Noailles. Pages 130-31 have party group-photos that include Foujita. A third spread (pp. 100-101) deals with early days of the Foujita-Youki relationship. There's more, but you surely get the idea that Foujita was a publicity hound as well as a successful society painter during the Twenties. So I found it interesting to read this fairly recent biography of the man by Phyllis Birnbaum, who knows Japanese and has spent plenty of time in Japan. I haven't read other books about Foujita to give me a wider perspective, but Birnbaum's biography strikes me as being fair in that she presents opposing takes on him by Japanese... posted by Donald at July 24, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Sunday, July 20, 2008


More on Parking
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Does "free" parking come at too high a price? UCLA prof Donald Shoup thinks that we have our priorities -- and our pricing schemes -- all wrong. "I don't see why people should have to pay market rents to live in a neighborhood, but the cars should live rent free," he says. Watch an interview with Shoup here. Listen to one here. Here's Shoup's book about parking. I wrote about how well-done parking arrangements can help bring a downtown back to life back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 20, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Saturday, July 19, 2008


Mystery Painting Identified
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I wrote a posting lamenting that I'd noticed an interesting print that I couldn't identify and pleaded for help from our art-savvy readership. Lo and behold, reader S. D'Arbanville came through (see the posting's comments) ... many thanks! The painting is Fin de Souper by Jules-Alexandre Grün, (1868-1934?) dated 1913. (In my posting I suggested that it was done between 1912 and 1920, so I got that bit right. On the other hand, I privately guessed that it might be by an English artist, missing the target on that point.) For information on Grün, I strongly suggest you click here; the link contains a lot of information about this comparatively unknown artist. It also claims to identify his self portrait in the painting as well as images of his wife and fellow poster-artist Jules Chéret. Here are examples of Grün's work: Gallery Fin de Souper in the light intensity of the reproduction I saw. Here is a lighter version. I prefer the dark one. Vendredi su Salon des Artistes Français - 1911 A Group of Artists - 1929 Poster, 1903. Poster, no date, but probably 1900-07. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 19, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, July 14, 2008


Modern Classicist
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Meet Scottish classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart. Not having seen any of his work in the flesh, I don't really know how I feel about it. I do know, though, that I'm very glad that he's out there doing his impressive best to create persuasive classical sculpture in the modern world. A sentence from the article struck me especially hard. When Stoddart was an art student in the '70s, practising his representational art, "graffiti in the lavatories labelled him as a fascist because he refused to veer from the figurative path." Ah, yes, those liberal and open-minded art students. Here's Alexander Stoddart's website. Completely unrelated: Diana Rigg, who turns 70 this month, still smokes, drinks, and drives a sports car. Diana's daughter Rachael Stirling is also an actress, and looks a bit like her mum. Here's a visit with Rachael. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments





Sunday, July 13, 2008


Mystery Painting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We were visiting Spokane and northern Idaho last week, lodging at the Holiday Inn Express in Spokane Valley. In the lobby were a number of framed prints, including the one below. Sorry about the poor quality, but the lighting was bad when I snapped it and I tried to digitally enhance the image as best I could. Mystery painting: Title and artist, please. The scene is of a bunch of rich old gents and sweet young things around a brightly lit table. All are well dressed and seem to be having a swell time chatting things up. From the women's fashions and hairdos, I'd peg the date sometime between 1912 and 1920. Few critics would consider it a great work of art. However, I found it quite interesting to look at because it attracts and holds one's attention (if one is interested in people, at any rate). It also interested me because it seems skillfully done. For instance, note that the girl on the left is illuminated by two light sources: the yellow table lighting and a daylight source to the left of the scene. The figures are believably posed and nicely drawn. Nothing profound here. No irony or social commentary other than perhaps the age contrast between the sexes and whatever that might suggest. One might consider it a Great War era version of a Watteau. My biggest problems with it are that I have no idea what the title is and I don't know the name of the painter. Frustrating, because I'm really curious. Do any of you recognize it? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 13, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments





Sunday, July 6, 2008


Shoot First, Paint Later
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently bought two books that happened to have a common sub-topic. They are: Richard Estes Jack Vettriano: Studio Life That topic is use of reference photography by painters. This is something purists have been declaring for years to be Avoided At All Cost, lest the artist be shunned (or some other dire fate). What you're supposed to do is hire models if you're painting people or gather up a bunch of equipment and supplies and head to the countryside and do the plein-air thing. Painters of a practical bent shrugged off the guilt-trip long ago. Edgar Degas is known to have been a photography fan. Alphonse Mucha routinely took reference photos of models. There are books about him that include his reference shots along with the finished art. This book is a collection of his photos. Illustrators tended to use reference photography extensively. This is partly to save expenses on model posing time -- an hour or so before the camera is a lot less costly than a day in front of an easel. Norman Rockwell, for example, used live models early in his career but later usually worked from photos. John La Gatta, on the other hand, preferred a model before his easel. The Richard Estes book cited above includes a partial transcription of a 1977 interview in which he holds forth on art (he doesn't much like Modernism) and the use of photography. (Note: The book is bi-lingual Spanish and English, so isn't as meaty at its 190-ish page count might imply.) Estes really has no choice but to work form photos because his depictions are mostly of transient conditions. He shoots lots and lots of photos and will return to the scene later to get more pictures if the first shoot was inadequate. He seldom or never works from a single reference photo, instead combining parts from several. One reason for this is photographic exposure: Most photos are exposed for a sunlit subject or a shady subject, and a scene combining both adequately on one image is hard to get. But his paintings usually demand both convincing lighted and shady areas, so different reference photos are needed. Vettriano is self-taught, initially working from stock photos in how-to-paint books or pictures from magazines and other convenient sources. He continues to rely exclusively on reference photos, most of which he takes himself. Although he can easily afford model fees, he doesn't like to paint from life because it makes him nervous, he claims. A shy man, he gladly switched from film to digital imaging because he felt embarrassed dropping off film rolls filled with images partly undressed women at the local Boots store (Boots is England's large drugstore chain). He saves some money by using himself as the model for male figures in his paintings. As for female models, he says he prefers older (say, mid-30s) women to younger ones because they show more character. He also admits to the occasional affair... posted by Donald at July 6, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Saturday, June 28, 2008


An Astonishing Art Rediscovery
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Revolution continues to shake the art world. Well into the process of being overturned are the reputations of hegemonist white males whose corporeal forms long since flatlined to room temperature (or to express the thought more crudely, died). May maggots feast on their canvasses as well as their carcasses! We have come far, my friends. The atrophying of Abstract Expressionist painting (mere wall-decorations lacking any semblance to irony, intellectual content or political meaning) opened doors to bold new artistic concepts. First Pop Art. Then Op Art. Minimalism. Earth. Performance. Conceptual. Neo-Dada. Installation. The parade of our triumphs seems endless. Best of all, I now have the extreme pleasure of announcing the latest breakthrough in the war to stamp out that vile oppression known as Western Culture. Behold: Anthropomorphic Art!! His Station and Four Aces - C.M. Coolidge, 1903 This discovery -- in fact, a shatteringly important re-discovery -- is the body of work by the too-long obscure artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge who we have every hope was no relation of the foul, heartless Calvin of the same last name. His genre has been known as Dogs Playing Poker, but an effort is hereby underway to devise and popularize a more politically relevant label for this landmark series of paintings. The second link indicates that a pair of Coolidge's series were auctioned together for a sum greater than half a million dollars. Clearly, even the market (I spit on its name) has begun to recognize Anthropomorphic Art. Allow me to analyze the painting so that you may better understand how it will reshape the world of art. The use of anthropomorphic dogs is appropriate since the shared DNA of canines and humans is a very high percentage of each species' total. Indeed, this is the prime thrust of Anthropomorphic Art: driving home to viewers that human hubris is the acting-out of a profoundly unjustifiable genetic delusion. Its salient defect is the fact that all the subjects depicted are wearing male clothing. Grudging allowance should be made in consideration of the date of its completion; presumably, future Anthropomorphic Art will redress this grave imbalance. On the other hand, the possibility that one of the subjects is in fact transgendered cannot be entirely ruled out -- consider the standing figure grasping the umbrella, for example. Another defect is that three subjects are shown with pipes in their mouths. Since no actual smoke is seen, they clearly are not smoking. Nevertheless, the presence of the pipes is disturbing in a non-ironic way. Although the dress of the card players appears bourgeois, the game itself is proletarian (note especially that the playing-table is colored red). This presents us an ironic commentary on the imagery of self-presentation in a society shot through with falsehoods within falsehoods. Of special note is the authority-figure of the train conductor. His blue costume is in striking contrast to the ochres and browns of the others. His hat is clearly a képi of a design... posted by Donald at June 28, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Monday, June 23, 2008


A Perl of a Critique
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts & Letters Daily directed me to this article by Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, in which he lashes out at some new museums and big-name Postmodern artists. Among many other things, he mentions that: I wish more museum directors and trustees understood how hungry--and how disgruntled--museumgoers in America really are. Again and again, people are pointed in precisely the wrong direction. It is depressing to think how many people have visited LACMA in recent months to see BCAM without sparing a minute for the Ahmanson Building. They literally do not know what they are missing. From Los Angeles I went up to San Francisco, and it is more or less the same story. Everybody rushes to the Museum of Modern Art and the De Young, two overblown buildings with sporadically important collections, while the most beautiful museum in the city--the Legion of Honor, in which masterpieces by Watteau, Le Nain, and Seurat have been given a thrillingly elegant installation- -is hardly ever mentioned. It's my fault that I don't know if the assault is typical of Perl's criticism. I recently read his book New Art City, a sympathetic, if heavily padded, account of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. But that was it, until now. I simply assumed that he was in the tank for Modernism in all its forms. Clearly I need to pay him more serious attention, because his anti-establishment attack takes a certain amount of guts for a professional critic. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Sunday, June 22, 2008


Impressionism's Inspirations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It started in Denver, went to Atlanta and is now completing its run in Seattle. It's the exhibit titled "Inspiring Impressionism: The Impressionists and the Art of the Past." The Seattle Art Museum page describing it is here. From what I read, Impressionism is a hot box office item for art museums. So the trick is to devise new ways of packaging the paintings. The current show uses what I consider an under-recognized fact as its hook: Impressionism wasn't created out of thin air. That's the good bit. The not-so-good bit is that the effort was feeble. That said, it's only fair to recognize that assembling an exhibition from many different collections is not easy. I've never tried it, but I can easily image that it's a murderous process where frustration piles upon frustration. An example is the following juxtaposition SAM used to publicize the show. Lady in Fur Wrap - El Greco - 1577-80 Portrait of Isabelle Lemonnier - Éduard Manet - c.1879 Ann Dumas, of the Royal Academy of Arts, London and co-curator of the exhibit, mentioned in a talk to museum members that she really wanted to pair the Greco with a copy made by one of the Impressionists. The copy would not be lent, so she had to make do with a Manet painting that at least had a woman wearing a fur as its subject. The most unusual part of the show contained a number of drawn and painted copies of art in the Louvre by several Impressionists when they were young and learning their craft. An exception was a semi-copy by Berthe Morisot done when she was a mature artist. The point the curators were trying to make was that most Impressionists respected earlier art and didn't reject it utterly. The exhibit's force dwindled rapidly in other galleries where thematic juxtapositions with (mostly) 17th and 18th century paintings were placed. The themes included landscapes, nudes and children -- common grist for painters before and since the Impressionists. In other words, no big deal. To me the key painting of the show was this: A Young Woman Reading - Jean-Honoré Fragonard - 1776 Its significance was was largely ignored in the little plaque next to it, though it might have been featured in the recording doohickey some viewers opt to cart around. This Fragonard has to be seen in person. The various reproductions of it in the museum store (posters, postcards, the exhibit catalog, etc.) as well as the one shown above don't capture the color of the original. The red-orange areas on the subject's face are much stronger than what you see here. The cool areas of the face are a strong greenish-blue. The brushwork is bold. Even though one might call it proto-Fauve given its coloration, it's probably closer to Impressionism. Lacking are broken color and short brush strokes that Monet and Pissaro might have used. Hell -- it's practically an Impressionist work done a century early.... posted by Donald at June 22, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, June 20, 2008


Politically Incorrect Ornamentation?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The message "function good, ornament bad" is the best distillation I can come up with from my experience in architecture classes I took in the late 1950s. Time has passed, obviously, and Postmodernism marked the entry of the nose of the ornamentation camel into the tent of pure, Modernist architecture. Needless to say, architects trained circa when I was in school were unhappy with that development and controversy has continued till this day. I was glancing at the Harvard Design Magazine last week at the local Barned & Noble and stumbled on this article by Robert Levit titled "Contemporary Ornament: The Return of the Symbolic Repressed" that deals with this book: "The Function of Ornament" by Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo. I later located a copy of the book and skimmed it, but didn't buy it because, since I retired, my book-buying budget has taken a serious hit. I mention this because it means that I can't give an evaluation of Levin's take on the book. But that doesn't really matter. Whether the thoughts are from Levin or Moussavi or Kubo, a line of reasoning interested me. Here are some carefully cherry-picked quotes from Levin: If one may take The Function of Ornament as an indicator of an important vein of sentiment in the architectural community, it names ornament, welcomes it back, as it were, but only on condition: ornament must function. Ornament may be back, but only by putting behind what gave it its past notoriety: its position outside of instrumental need, which is to say, its openly symbolic nature. ... As Moussavi and Kubo make evident in their title, they will resurrect ornament on a functional foundation. The control of light and the assembly of walls, structural skeletons, light-diffusing walls and ceilings, are instrumental bases for exercises in pattern-making. Now rooted in function, questions of a purely symbolic or formal motivation can be put aside. With this move, a foundational polarity in Modernist architecture seems to dissolve—its distinction between substantive categories of material, structure, and space on the one hand, and ornament on the other. Moussavi expresses concern about the communicative goals of Postmodernist architecture with its applied ornament. Citing the pluralist nature of contemporary society, she doubts that a coherent system of signs capable of communicating with architecture’s varied publics can be made. ... Ornament does not pose a problem for our moment because it is superficial, added to the surface of buildings (as if after more important matters). It is a problem because, more explicitly than questions of type, structure, building arrangement, room distribution, and volume (all more readily seen as producing our sheltering environments), ornament remains more stubbornly a symbolic substance. ... So what is wrong with symbolic form? In Moussavi’s view, it cannot speak to today’s plural publics for whom the symbolic can only be opaque. ... Symbolic form requires levels of cultural familiarity (an erudition of sorts). Its limited legibility makes it undemocratic. (This is implicit in... posted by Donald at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments




Creativity Goes Amok Once Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Stuart Buck gives a convincing thumb's down to a proposed new piece of "blobitecture" in Prague. Though it doesn't qualify as blobitecture, Will Alsop's new arts center for West Bromwich is equally preening and silly. Has anyone else noticed that public funding is involved in both these projects? A century ago the buildings that governments erected were often sturdy beauties. Today they're often offenses. What changed? An a propos quote comes from the great Leon Krier: "As is the case with all good things in life -- love, good manners, language, cooking -- personal creativity is required only rarely." Best, Michael UDPATE: Rick Darby has a fun, smart and eloquent go at a current Chicago project. Is "monstrosity" too strong a description for it? How about "kinky dildo"?... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Art in America
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I struggled to come up with a apt, succinct title to this note, but had to leave to catch the preview showing of an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. So I simply used Art in America, the name of an art magazine where "Art & Politics" is the theme of its current issue. Its puny web site includes the following contents list for the issue. In Times of Trouble – some recent films and videos provide a wide-angled look at a world of violence. Collateral Damage – in a gripping new monument, Siah Armajani traces parallels between the attacks on Fallujah and on Guernica. Global Warnings – the icecaps are melting, storms are increasing, species are dwindling. Several exhibitions ask, how can art help? Talking Politics 2008 – six artists whose work courts controversy exchange ideas about the common ground between politics and art. Rules of Engagement – a number of artists reexamine the evidence on documentary photography’s truth value. Written in Stone – using salvaged blocks, Michal Rovner assembled an imposing testament to the possibility of cooperation in the Mideast. Handforth’s Fallen Angels – Milton’s Paradise Lost, along with recent malfeasance and loss, frames Mark Handforth’s new work. Sticking It – a 40-year survey of Judith Bernstein’s drawings showcased her signature image: a phallus that’s also a very big screw. Front Page – the latest news and notes from around the art world. Based on this evidence, I suspect a fall issue will be devoted to Barak Obama campaign posters designed by artists ranging from students to jet-setters. Art in America claims to be "The World's Premier Art Magazine" (see link). Wait a minute. Art in America as The World's Premier Art Magazine? Filthy imperialists. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Monday, June 9, 2008


Heterodox Thinking on Architecture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Leon Krier as great an architecture-and-urbanism thinker as Jane Jacobs was? Since I suspect that he may be, it's nice to see that Roger Scruton does too. If you've ever rolled your eyes in exasperation when reading a conventional piece of architecture history or criticism, Scruton's essay should come as a relief and a blessing. It's a great introduction to a way of seeing and experiencing architecture-and-urbanism that's helpful, down-to-earth, poetic, and moving. Here's a review of Krier's best-known book. Here's a long q&a with Roger Scruton. I wrote an intro to Jane Jacobs back here. In related news: Lakis Polycarpou conducts a discussion with James Kunstler and Nikos Salingaros: Part One, Part Two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Saturday, May 31, 2008


A Gehry Monument to Himself for NYC
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gil Roth at Virtual Memories called my attention to this article in today's New York Times about a Frank Gehry skyscraper under construction in Lower Manhattan. It includes a school on the first few floors. And is located in the Brooklyn Bridge approaches / City Hall area, according to the article by Times architectural writer Nicolai Ouroussoff. Even better, it will be a modest 76 stories tall and have a wavy, Expressionist exterior. But best of all, Just as important, the design suggests that the city is slowly if hesitantly recovering from the trauma of 9/11. Only a few years ago, as plans were readied for a bunkerlike Freedom Tower downtown, it seemed as if the Manhattan skyline would be marred by jingoism and fear. ... Mr. Gehry’s tower, by contrast, harks back to the euphoric aspirations of an earlier age without succumbing to nostalgia ... it signals that the city is finally emerging from a long period of creative exhaustion. ... A lesser architect might have spoiled one of the most fabled views in the Manhattan skyline. Instead Mr. Gehry has designed a landmark that will hold its own against the greatest skyscrapers of New York. It may even surpass them. Once again "creativity" trumps quality. Well, hmm. In fairness, I suppose we should wait until the thing is completed before we concur with Ouroussoff's implied contention that Gehry is The Second Coming of Raymond Hood. And as Michael Blowhard likes to remind us, we'll have the next 80 years or so to do that evaluation. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 31, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sensationally Traditional
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is the imbalance between Modernist and more traditional painting in the process of being redressed? I wish. Since any such redressment will probably be a long-term process, it's too soon to tell. Too soon for me, anyway. Nevertheless, I can grasp at straws as well as the next person. The most recent straw in the wind is Juliette Aristides' latest book Classical Painting Atelier. (She previously wrote a book about drawing that also can be found in bookstores or ordered via Amazon.) Aristides, according to the cover flap bio, trained on the East Coast and now is an instructor here in Seattle at the Gage Academy of Art. I am greatly embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the Gage until I read that snippet. Seeking atonement as well as trying to satisfy curiosity, I did a little Mapquesting and hopped into my trusty Chrysler to find the joint. And voila! It is housed in a former girls school on the grounds of St. Mark's Episcopal cathedral on Capitol Hill. According to their Web page, evening drawing sessions are available; I'd be tempted to sign up, but I travel too much to get my money's worth. Back to the book. It contains much useful information and serious art students should read it because Aristides knows (and demonstrates by her own painting) what she's talking about. For me, the highlights were the illustrations. Besides the Usual Suspects such as Rembrandt, Hals, Velázquez and Vermeer, she includes fine paintings by more recent artists including Cecelia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, William Bouguereau and Albert Handerson Thayer. And, related to the matter of a potential return to traditional painting, Aristides included works by living artists, some of whom who are established such as Andrew Wyeth and Odd Nerdrum, and others who are early in their careers. Here are some examples I grabbed off the Internet. The ones farther down might be dicey if you are at work, so use caution. Of course you can justify viewing them because, after all, they are Art. Gallery Transparent and Solid by Gary Faigin, 2000 Let's start off with two still-life paintings. The objects and eye-level viewpoint are contemporary, but the handling is Academic. Interesting mix. Mertz No. 11 by John Morra, 2006 Okay, this one wasn't in the book. I couldn't find an image of Mertz No. 2 on the Web, so this will have to do. Similar to what Faigin was attempting. Corner Window 2 by Daniel Sprick, 2001 A still life with a whiff of landscape. Plus a dab of Surrealism; it looks like those tulips are suspended in thin air. Flora by Nelson Shanks, 1994 Apologies for the small size -- it rated a full page in the book. What fascinates me is the light source that shines upwards at about a 60 degree angle from the horizontal and its effects on the subject. Carolina by Jacob Collins, 2006 I think this is Collins' best painting... posted by Donald at May 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Sunday, May 25, 2008


Mickey D on Steroids
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some readers in the gray-or-dyed-hair demographic might remember the early McDonald's stands. The ones with golden arches bracketing a service counter, kitchen and storage area; there was no indoor seating. Some new McDonald's buildings have retro'd (howzzat for verbing a noun, folks) the bracketing arch style. But what I've noticed here and there was nothing compared to the McDonald's near our hotel in Chicago, just north of the river. Behold: Gallery Here's the set-up. Large parking lot, drive-thru, large but otherwise pretty conventional first floor as hamburger stand. It's the upper floor where things get interesting. Not shown is the coffee house cum gelato bar service counter. This shot gives a general idea as to what's there otherwise. Next, some details. Here are some of the booths. The large windows and second-floor location and viewpoint are about all that's different from ordinary McDonald's. This is one of the lounge areas. Nice furniture. Even nicer furniture. Those Barcelona Chairs don't come cheap. So what are you waiting for? No more sneaking into McDonald's or making excuses to spouses, friends or co-workers. At last, a place where you can have a Big Mac and power meeting at the same time. If you happen to be in Chcago, that is. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 25, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Thursday, May 22, 2008


Surrealistic Dreaming
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Throughout recorded history some people have considered dreams to be really important. They would be a source of messages from God or perhaps were a mechanism for foretelling the future. More recently, they have been considered a window to deep aspects of one's personality. When I was in grad school I once stopped by the medical school library for a reason I no longer remember. Wandering along shelves carrying recent editions of journals, I happened to pause and look at the table of contents of a psychoanalytic journal. One of the articles was about Umbrella Symbolism in dreams. I gave the piece a quick scan and noticed that this contribution to science was based on three cases! Which is one of many reasons why I never took Freud very seriously. My own dreams are usually pretty ordinary. I seldom even dream about things that are current in my waking hours -- even important or stressful things. If Freud had analyzed my dreams, Psychoanalysis might never have been born. But I'm an arts buff (it sez so on the panel to the left), so what about connections between dreams and painting, say? Hmm. [Scratches head] Why of course! Surrealism! Some Surrealists bought into Freudianism (or claimed to do so). They supposedly painted what they had dreamed. The best known Surrealist of this school was Salvador Dalí who depicted drooping watches, people with window-like holes cut through them, ants crawling over stuff -- all sorts of weird scenes that were supposedly dream-driven. Other Surrealists painted other strange scenes. I have never dreamed anything like Surrealist dream-scenes. Things in my dreams are realistic even if they are not representing objects in my waking world. For example, a couple of times a year I dream about being back at my frat house. I might be younger or my actual age, but not an undergraduate -- the details don't matter here and I can't recall them in any case. Sometimes Greek Row and the frat house are as they are in reality. Other times its architecture has been altered as the result of a renovation. Sometimes Greek Row has changed somewhat; buildings are different, locations of houses might have changed a little. But the architecture and other setting details are entirely plausible. Nothing is weird. Cynical me, I've never been convinced that dream-painting Surrealists painted actual dreams. I think they simply came up with stuff that made for good public relations to entice buyers. Or maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm a dullard who's lacking in the imaginative dream department. Will anyone out there step forward in Comments and admit that they actually dream stuff like Surrealists painted? Comments by folks who only dream about ordinary things are also welcome. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments





Sunday, May 18, 2008


Notre Dame Gothic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last fall I wrote about how the University of Washington dealt with the problem of Collegiate Gothic in the modernist era. My review was mixed. Yesterday I was in South Bend, Indiana and finally broke the inertia of driving south on the main drag to check out the Notre Dame University campus. It happened to be graduation day, but we were able to find parking and walked from the lot to the golden dome and back. Here are some of the buildings I saw: Gallery Yep, this seems to be the right place. Our Lady is to the left, and the dome to the right. Let's start at the dome and work back. This is the Main Building with the dome on top. It's the center of the campus and likely one of the first buildings built. Most colleges start small, with an Old Main or somesuch that initially housed everything. Here, the Main Building sets the campus tone in terms of brickwork (though it's slightly more yellow), if not in architecture. Some of the nearby buildings -- also a century or more old -- are Romanesque in flavor. Then the shift was made to a simplified Collegiate Gothic. I'll leave it to Notre Dame savvy readers to tell us when these were built. If I correlated correctly with my campus map, this is Alumni Hall. Note the color of the bricks and the green-gray slate roof: these are examples of the two main unifying elements. Not all is traditional. This is the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. It's Post-Modern in that it acknowledges its architectural environment. Could be better, could be worse than it is. The Center For Continuing Education is stark. So are many other buildings that are, unlike this one, away from the Notre Dame Avenue axis. Coloration ties it to the rest of campus, but it's out of place nevertheless, given its location. New construction just off the axis, and it looks like it will have a Gothic theme of sorts. Across Notre Dame Avenue from the Hesburgh is the Alumni Association Building which is simplified Collegiate Gothic. Behind it is the bookstore which contains the largest "logo" shop I've ever seen on a college campus. Apparently Notre Dame, besides having "subway alumni" also has "Boeing alumni." [Translation: In the glory days of Irish football, ND had lots of Catholic fans who never attended college. By "Boeing," I refer to the ease of transportation allowing alums and others to get to South Bend and scoop up sweatshirts, baseball caps, beer mugs, et cetera.] Finally, near the main entrance to campus is the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, a massive building that does a nice job of maintaining the architectural theme despite its bulk. Notre Dame strikes me as being far more successful than the University of Washington in maintaining a unified campus "look." Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the Fighting Irish have a School of... posted by Donald at May 18, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, May 15, 2008


Peak Oil, Simmons, Kunstler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those curious about the Peak Oil theory but perhaps a little tired of James Kunstler may enjoy this interview with investment banker, conservative dude, and Peak Oil believer Matthew Simmons. It would be hard to turn up a clearer, more concise presentation of the thesis than this one. If you haven't had your fill of Kunstler, here's an interview in which he brings together nearly all his themes. One especially nice passage: The ideas issuing from the highest circles of architectural education today are patent absurdities, such as the idea that novelty ought to trump the public interest, or the idea that ‘creativity’ (so-called) is a superior method than the emulation of forms that have already proven successful (meaning problems already solved). Personally, I view some of the leading architects of our time as being among the wickedest people in the world ... The record of their ideology in the cities and towns of America is there for anyone to see: abandonment, ruin, and the dishonour of the public realm. I know less than nothing about Peak Oil. But where Kunstler's evaluation of the high-end architecture establishment and its work goes, I'm with him all the way. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to BIOH, who points out a blog that takes quite a different view of Peak Oil.... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments





Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Glass Staircases
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to visitor Bryan for pointing out this NYTimes article about the current fashion for glass staircases. Funny comment from Bryan: "Glass, glass, glass. You would think it's this mysterious brand-new material, architects love it so much." Please, can someone commission a nature-or-nurture study of modernistic architects? Is the tendency to worship transparency and geometry something that some people are born with? Or are they brainwashed into their fascination with it? Small point: Given that pre-modernist and non-modernistic architects aren't mesmerized by abstraction to anything like the extent that the modernistic crowd is, this can't have to do with architects and architecture per se. After all, some architects -- not the kind who get tons of coverage from the likes of the NYTimes, alas -- are actually concerned with such values as shelter, social life, solidity, and even coziness. Visit John Massengale and Katie Hutchison for glimpses of a world the NYTimes will tell you very little about. Gotta love this quote from Rick Mather, the architect who created the glass staircase featured in the Times' story: “I like the ambiguity of it, I like that it brings in light, and I like that it disappears,” Mr. Mather said. “I like to not show how it’s supported.” Yup, that's what we want our architects doing: not creating satisfying and solid spaces and structures, but dissolving our structures around us. At his website, Rick Mather shows off a lot of flat planes, geometry, glowiness, crisp edges, and glass. Mather shows off little but that, it seems to me ... But, heck, well, at least his clients know what they're in for. God, but it must be exciting for architects to imagine themselves to be not just humble service-people doing their modest best to contribute a little to our shared quality of life, but instead to picture themselves as gurus, philosophers, and experimental scientists. Let's rescue humanity from tradition, from brick, even from rooms (modernistic architects prefer "spaces" to "rooms") -- from any familiar sense of how we're being sheltered! Too bad about those people who are terrified by the experience of, say, glass staircases ... But (as always) sacrifices need to be made so that the "liberation" process can move forward. Bryan's note reminded me of some vidclips I'd collected of the glassy insides of one of NYCity's Apple Stores. So I threw them together and hit iMovie '08's "Upload to YouTube" button. Here's my latest production, already viewed by 12 discerning and fortunate viewers, I see: Not a complete surprise to learn that Mr. iPod is a transparency buff himself, is it? I wonder if someone might want to suggest to Steve Jobs that the values that make for a nice computer or music player might not be the ones that are appropriate for buildings. In any case: Some people sure have weird tastes in architectural thrills. Too bad so many of them are architects. Modernistic architects: Preening zombies we need to learn to... posted by Michael at May 13, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Friday, May 9, 2008


Responding to Thursday
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On an interesting thread over at GNXP, Thursday issued a challenge. I'd been goofing around, writing that "novels themselves were quite disreputable at the outset -- the reality TV and tabloid-TV of their day. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that some novelists started putting on airs." Here's Thursday: Bullshit. No less a "serious" personage than Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a novel and a very good one too. Novelists like Richardson, Fielding, and Burney were considered serious writers right from the beginning. Haven't you read Boswell's life of Johnson. I have a hard time believing Jane Austen didn't take her meticulously planned and written books as high art. Tom Jones is planned to classical perfection. Critics like Hazlitt and Coleridge took the novelists like Richardson, Smollett, Sterne and Fielding seriously right from the start. Stop trying to rewrite literary history as if no-one had any clue what was high art and what wasn't. OK then: Time to get serious myself. Here's my response to Thursday: You're making a basic mistake. You're projecting current-day critical rankings back onto past eras. You're assuming that what we now consider great was self-evidently Great at the time. No. Look, what a work's reputation is today often has zip to do with how it was taken (and what it represented) when it was produced. What we now consider great was often taken for granted at the time, or looked-down-on. Defoe's novels are just one example. At the time they were published they weren't taken to be novels in our current sense. They were made-up fantasies that pretended to be works of reportage -- in other words, they were aesthetically and morally dubious productions akin to today's scandal sheets and reality TV, or maybe even to those books that turn up every few years about alien encounters in Australia. It took more than a century before many people started wondering if maybe "Robinson Crusoe" wasn't a pretty good novel. Works often become "literature" in hindsight, not at the time of their production. No matter how great we recognize "Tom Jones" to be today -- and I'm a big fan myself -- the early British novel was a scrappy and aesthetically scorned form, far more akin in its time to what journalism and TV are these days than to today's "literary fiction." The early English novel was a middle-class market phenomenon, not a serious or intellectual or literary one. We've learned to see structure, complexity, grandeur, and depth in these books only in retrospect. From Wikipedia's "literature" entry: "Early novels in Europe did not, at the time, count as significant literature, perhaps because 'mere' prose writing seemed easy and unimportant." From an online resource about Jane Austen: "In Jane Austen's era, novels were often depreciated as trash ... In Jane Austen's day, novels actually had something of the same reputation that mass-market romances do today." No matter what your opinion of Austen's books these days, and no... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments





Thursday, May 8, 2008


Julian's Place
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- PatrickH and Benjamin Hemric are raving about the new place that painter / filmmaker Julian Schnabel has created in New York City's West Village. Thanks to Benjamin for turning up this page of info and pix. I haven't visited yet, but from the photos Schnabel's place looks like overripe decadent boho bliss of a very high order. (FWIW, I don't care for Schnabel's paintings, which I find bombastic and silly. But I think he's a very talented filmmaker. Start with his biopic "Basquiat," which features a great performance by Jeffrey Wright, and which does a peerless job of conveying the intoxicating / nightmarish quality that life in the NYC visual-arts world can have.) One non-fan has this to say about Schnabel's new place, though: "He's obviously trying to pretend that this looks somehow Florentine or Venetian, when, really, it looks like a Malibu Barbie house that exploded." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Steve on Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve is asking all kinds of Sailer-esque, so-basic-they're-dangerous questions about art and art history. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments




The Human Touch
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little fun with comparing-and-contrasting. In our first pairing, the theme is outlines and shapes. The top building, the traditional one: Check out the variety and quantity of shapes. Trace the outline of the building with your finger -- takes some concentration and time, no? Incidentally: You may or may not know the names and histories of all the architectural elements playing roles in this composition. It really doesn't matter, unless you're (shudder) a scholar or a pedant. The important thing is to sense that they're embedded in western art history. And how is it possible not to do that? The bottom cluster of modernist buildings: a buncha shoeboxes covered with graph paper. One of them has been given a twist -- that's what too-often qualifies as "architectural creativity" these days. Trace these outlines with a finger -- it's fast, easy, and majorly boring. We're in a world of simple geometry and dumb abstraction, in other words, with no connection to anything of substance or depth, especially pre-1900 western art history. An analogy. Traditional architecture is to modernist architecture as traditional handmade art is to Adobe Illustrator images. In a handmade image ... ... you feel the presence of a person. There's subtlety, texture, depth. In many Adobe Illutrator images ... Well, they certainly pop. This image is what people in the media biz might call "a quick read" -- it's all edges, planes, gradient fills, and color swatches. But -- despite the whirliness and effects -- one glance at this image and you're done with it. Like the modernist buildings in the photo above, the Illustrator image has all the personality and lovableness of a bureaucracy. (Small aside: Doesn't it often seem that everything in our culture is doing its best to turn into spinning TV graphics?) Our next theme is color, scale, and texture: Top image: Warm colors. A structure that relates to your scale as a physical being, and that coexists easily with nature. Imagine reaching out and touching the stucco, the red tiles of the roof, the canvas of the awnings (awnings are architecture too): Nubbliness, weight, age ... It all makes me want to settle in, sip wine, and enjoy the day. Bottom image: So far as colors go, it's all neutrals. So far as scale goes: a kind of ballooning overwhelmingness. Put a tree in the midst of that scene and it'd look pathetic -- this world is a completely paved-over one. As for the materials ... Well, imagine reaching out and giving these surfaces a touch: slick and cold glass and metal; post-industrial surfaces made of god only knows what. To me, the scene resembles a loading dock full of computers and keyboards cast off by giants. It's one of the last places where I'd be tempted to take my ease. Hey, another analogy: The adobe-and-red-tile-roof building is like this pot: unmistakably hand-made, and redolent of character and culture. (In the case of this pot, Native American.)... posted by Michael at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments





Thursday, May 1, 2008


Diebenkorn, Dubrow
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of art shows I visited recently were rewarding not just because of the excellent art but because of some unexpected connections. The first was "Diebenkorn in New Mexico." Are you familiar with Richard Diebenkorn? His reputation goes in and out of fashion, at least here in New York, and I've lost track of what kind of esteem he's currently held in. He was born in 1922 and died in 1993, and spent most of his life in California. He was known for his figurative painting and for his abstracts, and also for the unself-conscious way he moved back and forth between representationalism and abstraction. His figurative pix are easy to read in abstract terms; his abstract pictures seem far more grounded in real-life perception (of landscape especially) than most abstracts are. His "Ocean Park" series, which he began painting in the late '60s, is probably has best-known work. As far as this show went: Using G.I. Bill money -- the history of the impact of the G.I. Bill on American art really needs to be written -- Diebenkorn studied at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque from 1950 to 1952. He was then in his late 20s. This was a show of drawings and paintings he did during those couple of years. These are images made, in other words, before he became a known quantity. I loved the show, which I found it refreshing, and pleasingly visual. No conceptual hijinks here, thank god. Thank god too that this wasn't high-period, magesterial, masterly art, purified by vision and tempered by experience -- I wasn't in the mood for any of that. No, in these drawings and paintings there were lots of stray ends, and even bits of undigested corniness. But that was perfectly fine with me: This was a show of the work of a talented young man, and much of the fun of it was enjoying Diebenkorn's youth, his energy, his adventurousness, and his sometimes goofy experiments. He was having fun himself, blundering eagerly from one idea to the next. Diebenkorn apparently loved the desert -- the Indian glyphs, the dazzling light, the muddy / tawny colors. He also, at this time, loved George Herriman's comic strip "Krazy Kat," and he'd recently studied with another fave of mine, the Bay Area Figurative painter David Park. The images Diebenkorn made in New Mexico are a jumble of all this and more. They aren't theoretical, they aren't just about "the paint." They're doodly, blotchy, sometimes rhapsodic / sometimes silly catch-alls, made from lived experience and visual awareness. This is what's on my mind; this is what's in my eyes. Personally speaking, what I tend to enjoy most about Diebenkorn is his lightness, his perceptiveness, and his quickness. He often used oil paint (generally a time-and-effort-intensive medium), he sometimes painted on a large scale, and he was certainly influenced by such backache-inducing modernists as Clyfford Still and Willem De Kooning. But Diebenkorn's paintings have... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments




A Couple of Architecture Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Catesby Leigh thinks the New Urbanists should stop arguing about buzzwords. * Andrew Cusack celebrates a new building designed to fit in, not stand out. That's what 99% of buildings should set out to do, it seems to me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments





Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Icon World
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Before the first Macintosh went on sale in 1984, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "icon" used to describe a stick-figure "graphical" visual before. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "graphical" before either. But all of a sudden it seemed that everyone had an opinion about "graphical interfaces." Here's a shot of the original Mac 128k screen: It seemed a like foreign (if appealing) universe. Outlines? Impersonal lines? Hyper-simplification? Pictographs? It seemed more like ancient Egypt than modern America. In America circa 1980 you might occasionally run across schematic drawings by engineers and architects: Those male and female outline-drawings that pointed you to men's and women's toilets were a staple of international airports. But -- strange though it can seem today -- the arrival of pictographs seemed pretty damned exotic. The world simply hadn't been heavily decorated and punctuated with hyper-simplified symbolic line images. These days, by contrast, it can seem as though icons (like tags) aren't just everywhere, they're a defining characteristic of modernity. What's a button, or a screen, or even a thought, without its own icon? I'm OK with this in a general sense, not that my opinion should matter. Eye-candy? -- I often like it, especially when the eye-candy serves a usability purpose as well as a delight purpose. I'm reminded that, back in the early '80s, I knew a writer who was struggling unsuccessfully with adapting to computers. Publications were demanding that writing be delivered in computer form, and -- as brilliant as he genuinely was -- the poor guy simply didn't have a computer-compatible brain. The screens presented by early-'80s PCs (green letters on black) put him off. File systems baffled him, and having to memorize basic computer commands ... It all made him just about weep with frustration. I don't mock this, by the way. People who don't happen to have brains that synch up well with computers are at a serious disadvantage these days. Come to think of it, one of the biggest changes I've witnessed in my lifetime is the development of a general expectation that everyone should be able to manage computers. It's a strange expectation, when you think of it. I work in an arty-media field, for example, yet it's all now based on computers. How bizarre that English majors -- English majors!! -- are expected to be competent with computers. Hey, IT people: There are perfectly decent and intelligent people out here whose brains just don't do the computer thing very well. Yet here we are today, nearly all of us spending our professional days serving the great computer god. There are moments when it all seems like nothing more than a naked power-grab by the geek class, doesn't it? Anyway, as of 1983 my writer-friend was in despair. His brain just didn't -- and really couldn't -- work the command-line way. Then, in 1984, he bought a Mac, and his problem was... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments





Sunday, April 20, 2008


Painted Classical Sculpture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, those Greek and Roman marble statues were (often? usually?) painted to look more lifelike. We know this because tiny traces of the paint can be detected. For some reason or another probably having to do with the fact that I'm a paint 'n' brush guy, I don't get worked up over classical sculpture. Not to the point that I've carefully studied such objects or read much in detail about them. So I didn't know that there have been attempts to recreate some statues, paint and all. Fortunately, the Getty Villa, where Pacific Palisades meets Malibu, currently has an exhibit titled "The Color of Life" which deals with colored sculpture over the years. I visited the Villa a week ago. Examples were brought in from such museums as the Munich Stiftung Archaeologie and Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek and Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Gryptotek. Besides examination of original pieces for information about pigments used, it was necessary to produce copies of the originals to use for reconstruction attempts. This article explains how the sculpted head of Emperor Caligula was reproduced. Below are some examples. Gallery The Peplos Kore - Greek, c.530 B.C. These are reproduction versions of a pre-Golden Age work (note alternative left arms, feet). I wonder if the original colors were really as intense as shown. Original sculpted head of Caligula Original with copy Attempted reconstruction of paint application The Getty had this head along with a second reconstruction. The one done a few years after the first try seemed more realistic, but still too stark and hard-edged to me. Sorry to say, I've already forgotten whether the head above is the first or second attempt. The results strike me as being too garish, but I wasn't around at the time and ought to defer to the experts. Still, I would expect better of the Greeks and Romans. On the other hand, from surviving evidence, the Romans seemed to be better sculptors than painters. This is odd, because lifelike sculpting requires good knowledge of human anatomy. If sculptors were highly knowledgeable, why weren't many painters? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments





Friday, April 18, 2008


Katie's Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good news. Katie Hutchison -- an inspired new-traditionalist architect as well as a most-excellent blogger -- will be writing a book for The Taunton Press, one of the best publishers in America. Read about Katie's appropriately modest and touching subject, namely small retreats, here. (MBlowhard mini-rant: An architect writing not a work of chic hyper-theory but instead something sophisticated-yet-accessible that might be of use to normal people -- now that's an event to be celebrated!) If you know of any successful and appealing examples of small retreats that deserve consideration for a place in the book, be sure to get in touch with Katie, who can be reached at katie-at-katiehutchison-dot-com. I rhapsodized about The Taunton Press back here. Sample some of their beautiful books here and here. Don't be completely surprised if -- as you let your eye and mind play over their products -- you discern a certain kinship with the thought of Christopher Alexander ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 18, 2008 | perma-link | (0)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


This is Not Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So it was a hoax. That Yale art student didn't really collect material from repeated self-impregnations and abortions as an art project. The New York Sun reports that she was actually doing "performance art." Key graf: "Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," a Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." So far as I'm concerned, none of the episode was art. It was a self-promoting public relations stunt justified by Feminist gibberish. The sad thing is that real art gets tarred by such juvenile acting-out. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 17, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments





Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Lego Living
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So there I was, innocently strolling the streets of downtown Seattle doing my usual scene-check. Then I came upon something odd -- even for Seattle. Let me show you ... Hello. What's that? The thing on the roof of that building? Hmm. Some sort of structure. Looks like a chair in a window. And there's a sign below it with an arrow pointing upwards. The sign explains that those are modular apartments intended for urban use, and this link is provided. I went up on the roof to look at the display more closely. The units seem to be about the size of mobile homes. I snapped this photo of a poster with a conception of what such modularized apartments might look like. Okay, so the actual apartments are to be assembled on plots of land. But the idea of putting such units on roofs, as the demonstration units are, is kinda odd, intriguing and possibly repellent. This raises the concept of trailer trash to a whole new dimension. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 16, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments





Monday, April 14, 2008


Cindy Sherman Is Simpler Than the Intellectuals Imagine (And So Is Most Art)
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When the photographer Cindy Sherman made her Untitled Film Stills back around 1980, critics and academics dreamed up all kinds of hyperintellectual arguments to tell us what she was really up to in the photos. Since Sherman was both in these sorta-recreations of iconic "female" images and in charge of them, we were given to understand by the experts that Sherman was -- at the least -- criticizing "power," undermining sex roles, and making numerous weighty feminist and theoretical points. Fun to learn then -- from a quick interview with New York magazine -- that Sherman in fact put nothing of what the critics saw in them into her photographs. Theory? Nope. Feminist points? Not a one. In fact, Sherman explains, the photos mainly arose out of her feelings about dressing up in costumes and putting on makeup. Hey, quel surprise: She's an artist, and not an intellectual who just happens to be expressing her wickedly complex theoretical structures through, weirdly enough, photography. A great passage from a recent Shouting Thomas comment: To reiterate... musicians aren't very bright. If they were, they wouldn't be musicians ... The same is true for just about all artists. If they had any sense, they wouldn't be artists. I'm reminded of a funny crack uttered by the much-missed Vanessa del Blowhard some years back about developments in downtown theater. There was a stretch in the '90s when edgy theater artists were showcasing garish colors, laughtracks, snappy pacing, game-show formats and such. The critics were treating themselves to a field day explaining that what these deep, complex, and (as always) "critical" artists were up to was subverting our media-drenched assumptions with their media-based strategies. Vanessa, who actually hung out with a number of these actors and directors, laughed and said to me, "What nonsense. These kids are creating theater pieces that resemble live versions of television because TV is what they really like. They like TV, and they want the theater they create to be like TV." Incidentally, I rather enjoy Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills -- I'm not putting her down. I'm having a chuckle at the fabrications of intellectuals, and I'm wondering why, where the arts go, anyone cuts critics and intellectuals any slack at all. A life free of their theories, rationalizations, and projections can be such a pleasingly straightforward thing, can't it? Incidentally: Girls' love of trying on clothes, experimenting with makeup, and posing in front of mirrors and cameras -- well, if I were in the culture-observing game, I'd venture the thought that it's one of the most powerful forces at large in culture today. That's pretty simple, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 14, 2008 | perma-link | (33) comments





Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Political Art Is ... Forever?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't see all that much of it in person. But I do notice a fair amount of coverage regarding political art in some art magazines and books. Political art is nothing new. An example I wrote about a while back was Picasso's "Guernica." And in the 19th century we find Manet's painting of the execution of Emperor Maximilian by the Mexicans and Goya's depictions of war. If politics is defined more broadly, art extolling existing regimes might be said to go back as far as the time of the early pharaohs: but that net is too wide for my purposes here. Although some political art -- such as the Manet and Goyas just mentioned -- has staying power, most is probably doomed to oblivion. If I were an artist and painted something political, I'd do so knowing what I did was essentially disposable art. And for all I know, this is just what real political artists think. The reason why politically-themed art has a short shelf-life is obvious. Time does march on and issues that were once blazing hot become paragraphs and footnotes in dry history books as decades pass and generations die off. If an artist really does want immortality by painting political themes, I advise him to include as many universal themes as he can along with the issue-driven stuff. To illustrate this, below is a painting that has been in the Museum of Modern Art's collection for decades. If my fuzzy memory is correct, I saw it displayed in the early 1960s; I don't know if it's currently on a wall or in storage. The Eternal City - by Peter Blume, 1934-37 According to the brief biography on MoMA's web site, this was Blume's only political painting. As it happens, I know what the painting is about. Furthermore, I suppose that quite a few (most, even?) of this blog's readers also know. But what about your friends, co-workers and family? Especially high school and college age youths who only have a hazy idea when the Civil War was fought. My gut feeling is that less than 10 percent of the American population can explain the political context of Blume's painting whereas well more than half might have when it was new. And in another 70 years? ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 9, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments





Saturday, April 5, 2008


Painter Babes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There were lots of really nice-looking gals around when I was in art school. That was back around 1960 when it wasn't considered a near-crime for women to snag a husband in time for college graduation. So a lot of sorority girls would major in art or music or Home Economics and, if all went well by their Junior or Senior years, walk the halls of ivy sporting a fraternity pin or engagement ring. On the other hand, attractive female artists were nothing new, even by 1960. I could conjure up some possible causes such as social background and selective breeding, but will leave it to Comments for better-informed speculation. Below are some examples for your consideration. Angelica Kauffmann - self portrait - 1787 Kauffmann (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland and had a highly successful career working in several countries. Among other achievements, she was a founding member of London's Royal Academy. Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun - self portraits c.1782 and 1790 Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842) was also very successful, painting several portraits of Queen Marie-Antoinette while still in her twenties. She had to flee France after the Revolution, but returned a few years after Napoleon seized power. Berthe Morisot - photograph and Portrait by Éduard Manet, 1870 Morisot (1841-95) was one of the original Impressionists. She came from a family with wealth, was painted on several occasions by her friend Manet, eventually marrying his brother Eugène. Elin Danielson - self-portraits, 1900 and 1903 Danielson (1861-1919) was a Finnish artist whose biography can be found here. Suzanne Valadon - drawing by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, photo Valadon (1865-1938) began as an artist's model, posing for several Renoir paintings. She took up art and was largely self-taught, but received encouragement and tips from Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, who admired her drawing ability. She was the mother of painter Maurice Utrillo. Elaine and Willem de Kooning, 1952 Elaine (1918-89), wife of Willem de Kooning for a time, is perhaps best known for her portraits of President Kennedy. Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning Birthday - self-portrait by Dorothea Tanning, 1942 Tanning (b. 1910) was the fourth and final wife of Surrealist painter Max Ernst. She changed from Surrealism to nearly-abstract painting and later became as writer as well. What other artists qualify for this Pantheon? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 5, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments





Thursday, April 3, 2008


It's All in the Nose
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Omigosh indeed. A fun and apt response from FvBlowhard, to whom I earlier emailed a link to this vid: "Wowee! That certainly upsets a lot of assumptions about art-making! Unless the elephant was elaborately trained to do that. Well, wait a minute, I guess I was trained to do some art stuff, too. Well, that’s one interesting elephant, trained or au naturel!" Best, and wishing I had half that creature's style, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Nikos and James
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- New American City interviews a couple of MBlowhard faves, James Howard Kunstler and Nikos Salingaros. The article has me thinking about cars, cities, and suburbs ... I'm no knee-jerk enemy of cars, and there's much about life in New York City that can irk me -- cramped spaces, obnoxious people, frantic pace, etc. But I really, really adore having most of what I need and want on a day-to-day basis available to me within walking distance. It feels civilized. To gloat for a sec: Within ten blocks of our apartment we can find grocery stores, delis, yoga and Gyro studios, shops of all kinds, movie theaters and theater-theaters, art galleries ... My office is three miles from where I live, and I walk to work nearly every morning. It's really lovely having all this walking built into my day. I haven't owned a car in 30 years. When I visit the rest of the country, I often find much there to envy and enjoy. But not the driving. I hate the way so much of life in 99% of the U.S. is organized around cars. If you say "Hey, let's go out!," what that usually means is, "Let's go to the garage, get in the car, spend time in traffic, park in another garage, then get out." Doing the chores usually means driving through traffic from one parking lot to another parking lot. Walking? Well, that usually doesn't just happen, as it does in New York City. It's usually something you need to make special time for. James Kunstler blogs here, and has a website here. Nikos Salingaros' website is here. If you haven't read the 2Blowhards interview with Nikos already, go to the top of this blog, click on "Interviews," and enjoy a very stimulating discussion. Oh, I just noticed something entertaining. Ah, those open-minded architectural progressives ... What are your own feelings and tastes where cities, cars, walking, and the 'burbs are concerned? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 2, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, March 28, 2008


The Most Damaging Artist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What is Art? Pretty nearly everything, it seems. All it takes is a self-proclaimed "artist" or his gallery guy or a copy-hungry reporter or art critic to announce to the world that this assemblage or that hardware store object is Art. I think this is nonsense. It has become a prime case of "If everything is Xxxxx, then nothing is Xxxxx." My own modest proposal is to call Art pretty much whatever was considered Art in 1900. What's been added since then strikes me as being mostly "art" -- and much of it doesn't even rise to that level. As a corollary to my modest proposal, those things now called "Art" but that were not Art in 1900 ought to be called Other Stuff. There is so much Other Stuff around, I'm tempted to write the powers-that-be at London's Tate Modern humbly requesting it be re-branded the Tate Other Stuff. And who is to blame for getting us into this fine kettle of Other Stuff? The man who I consider the artist who caused the most damage to Art: Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp is known for such Other Stuff works as designating a urinal as a piece of sculpture and painting a mustache and beard on a print of the Mona Lisa. His "readymades," including that urinal and a bottle rack along with his other art-world pranks blazed the path for what all too many Post-Modernists have been doing since around 1960. I wonder about all this talk of contemporary "artistic creativity" when it should be obvious that Big Dada did it first. End of rant. Have fun in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 28, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Tuesday, March 18, 2008


"Early American Art"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an example of something that 1) is all-too-common and 2) really irks me: the way many arty types take it for granted that the story of American art is the story of modernist American art. Yo, artworld: Calling Georgia O'Keefe an example of "early American art" is like calling "Reservoir Dogs" an example of "early gangster movies." It's overlooking an awful lot, and it's promoting a restrictive and stupid myth. I raved back here about what a wild and glorious free-for-all pre-modernist American art was. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, March 11, 2008


How Should Museum Art Be Selected?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My copy of The New Criterion arrived yesterday, and the first article I dove into was this one, "Revisionism at the Met" by New York Sun art critic Lance Esplund. He has been examining the recently re-done Galleries for Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture and isn't entirely pleased. And he has some concerns about the direction the Met as a whole seems to be taking, but I'll leave that for another time. Another matter I won't deal with here is the validity of Esplund's complaints about the galleries. That's because I don't visit New York City often and haven't seen them in their present form. What interests me for now is the following passage. More and more, museums are allowing the public to decide what is and is not worthy in art. Websites and notebooks accompany galleries and exhibitions, so that visitors can weigh in on issues concerning what they saw, didn’t see, would like to see, or would like to see changed in museums. I think there is a lot of value to be gained here, as long as public opinion is taken for what it is -- public, rather than expert, opinion. The problem is that the experts and policy makers (museum curators, directors, and trustees) appear to be making decisions based on public taste. It is public opinion—or, more correctly, the desire to appeal to public, or populist, taste -- that has ruined the once-magnificent Brooklyn Museum of Art. And, based on what is happening within certain areas of the Met, including the Galleries for Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture, there is a sense that populist, crowd-pleasing taste -- or at least an appeal to that taste -- is weakening the museum’s foundations. Or, worse yet, there is a sense that populist taste is a Trojan horse that is already inside the gates. Let's see: letting the public taste camel get its nose in the tent will ultimately lead to a Met gallery of paintings of Elvis on different colored velvets. Well guess what: that very same Elvis gallery might result if left to "experts" and "professionals" uncorrupted by the public. All it would take is a prominent critic or two to proclaim that Elvis-on-velvet paintings really are art worthy of attention and respect. And if words such as "ironic," "paradigm," "deconstruction," "narrative," "subversive" and "meta-theory," were used in the right places, museums across the land might well stampede to the nearest shopping mall art show to scoop up their own Elvis collection. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously complained about the defining-down of deviancy. I think the same might be said of art. The term for what once was rarefied has over the years been applied to seemingly nearly everything. A visit to the Tate Modern a few years back confirmed this for me. Rather than art, I thought most of it was sh*t. Disagree with my opinion? Then let me add that... posted by Donald at March 11, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Some Architecture Musings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by Donald's posting about the Seattle Central Library, I was e-chatting with a friend about buildings, architecture, and modernism. I wound up dashing off a note that I was pleased with. Never one to forego EZ blogging, I present it here: I kinda like a certain amount of chic architecture purely as "design." Shrink a Frank Gehry building by a factor of 1000, put a 60 watt bulb in it, plunk it on my coffee table, and I'd enjoy it as a fun, kooky lamp. Mies van der Rohe had a much snappier sense of abstract design and proportions than I ever will -- he'd have been a great layout artist. It's absurd, though, to proffer their kind of thing as buildings. In Gehry's case: Asking people to live in a piece of swoopy sculpture? Whose dumb idea was that? In Mies' case: What kind of nutcase would maintain that people should live in the equivalent of a sharp-looking piece of magazine design? Plus there's all that awful "empty space" around so much modernist architecture -- dead plazas, streets that no longer work as living urban streets ... It's sterile, dead-end stuff. People tend to move out of a city that becomes too dominated by modernist (po-mo, decon, etc) buildings and spaces. Which is finally what clinches the deal for me: the "Modernism" thing is an experiment that just didn't work. People voted with their feet. So let's put a stop to it, and pronto. The forms of traditional-style building evolved because they served people's needs and pleasures well, or well-enough. You toss these forms out (or monkey with them too dramatically) at your peril. It's useful to think of traditional buildings and traditional urbanism as evolved things, much like biological creatures. They've evolved in the way they have for many reasons, almost certainly more than we'll ever be consciously aware of. Mess with 'em too heedlessly and something's likely to go haywire. Another fun way to think of traditional architecture: as akin to tonal music. Scales, chords, harmonies, rhythmic patterns ... For some reason or other, tonality speaks to people, where purely intellectual and abstract musical structures strike most people as bewildering and alienating. And of course musical tonality has a history that's similar to that of traditional architecture. Both evolved in a trial-and-error way, in relationship to people's actual (and very possibily biologically-based) tastes, pleasures, and preferences. Modernist architecture by contrast has always been a top-down, theory-driven kind of thing -- a cage imposed on us rather than a creature that has been nurtured and that has grown to take its place in a larger ecosystem. Modernist architecture never stops haranguing us about what we ought to like and how we ought to live. Traditional architecture -- well, it is what we like; it is how we like to live. Funny too the way that the "radical" (haha) architecture set has often claimed that they advocate what they do because they're... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments




Seattle Central Library Revisited
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of years ago I kvetched here about the then-new central branch of the Seattle Public Library. It was designed by red-diaper starchitect (hey! how's that for a double ad hominem whammy?) Rem Koolhaas and greeted with praise by the local media and cultural establishment. Some of the enthusiasm has cooled. The Wikipedia entry current when this post was written (see here, scroll down a ways) mentions that a Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer was rash enough to mention that not everyone was happy with the building. I happen to think that the library was a horrible aesthetic mistake that Seattle will have to live with for the next 40 or 50 years (that's how often central libraries seem to last hereabouts). Actually, it might be around much longer than that if the usual fools declare it a "landmark." Today I'll try to set aesthetics aside for the most part and deal with function -- how well the building works. I'm afraid this will be pretty superficial in that I only entered the place to do one task. Still, it might represent what other citizens experience if they aren't steady library users. Speaking of steady use, let me footnote that I went to the central library a lot when I was in high school. (That building was two generations removed from the present one, being a Carnegie-funded library that came on line about a hundred years ago. It was torn down and replaced by a conventional Modernist structure in the late 50s.) I would catch a bus near my high school, ride downtown, walk to the library and browse until it was nearly time for my father to leave work. Then I'd walk the block to his office and hitch a ride home. Much of my browsing was in the art / architecture areas (the low 700s, for you Dewey Decimal System fans). A couple of weeks ago Nancy was attending a big garden show in town and I had two or three hours to kill. The thought hit me: Why not go to the library and see what they have in those low-700 stacks these days. So I did. This was perhaps my third visit to the new building since it was opened and my first attempt at actually using the thing. Let's switch to Gallery mode. These are images I grabbed from the Web. Exterior view, daylight Seen from Fourth Avenue, looking northeast. X-ray diagram Same geographical orientation as photo above. The green colored part takes in the non-stacks part of the library -- children's room, reading room, meeting rooms, etc. Note the slope of the site indicated in gray. Fourth Avenue is to the left, Fifth Avenue is uphill towards the right. Entrances are on Fourth and Fifth avenues. The pink floors are the stacks that form a vertical zig-zag pattern: it's sort of like folded computer print-out paper. However, the north and south sides of these numbered floors are slightly offset... posted by Donald at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, February 29, 2008


Our Postmodern Economy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, It has occurred to me from time to time that shifts in a civilization probably show up more clearly in the arts than elsewhere. As one example, let’s look at the transition in painting from representation to more conceptual modes such as cubism and abstraction; this occurred in the first couple decades of the 20th century. This shift occurred at virtually the same time that the professions -- our technocratic elite -- emerged in their modern, self-regulated form. As Robert H. Wiebe points out in his book, "The Search for Order 1877-1920," practitioners of law, medicine, teaching, architecture, social work and other forms of administration seized the reins of their own professional status around the year 1900. During this era, members of various intellectual "guilds" got legal control over the education of their prospective members, over certification (who got a license and who was kept out), and over disciplinary proceedings governing their members. While Wiebe claims the critical decade for the development of the self-consciousness of the professions as social leaders was between 1895 and 1905, the complete consolidation of professional self-governance took a couple decades to complete. Let me be clear what it means when professions are able to control themselves, with full cooperation by the government. It means the recognition in law that these groups constitute a leadership class that can not be meaningfully directed by outsiders. Sounds like a pretty thorough endorsement of elite status to me. While these specific dates and examples come from the United States, the rise of a new class of experts (distinguished by their technical education, claiming to embody the power of advanced science and working in close communion with both industry and government while largely remaining formally independent of both) was common to all advanced countries at this time. Is it an accident that modernism, a self-consciously "advanced" art, distinguished by its focus on concepts rather than ordinary appearances, occurred at the same time as the rise of a conceptually-oriented class of technocrats? I think not. In fact, the so-called avant-garde of the early 20th century art world could be better described as bringing up the rear or hitching a ride on coattails of this social dynamic, which had been in train for a couple decades when the art world finally woke up and clambered onto the bandwagon. So if changes in the art world generally echo or reflect changes in the real world -- a proposition that can be illustrated by countless examples -- what do our contemporary arts show us about developments in the real world today? When you look at, say, a Frank Gehry building, with its billowing, twisted, slanted forms, what is being conveyed? I’d read it as saying, "These twisted planes are walls if I say they are. I (the architect, that is) have got the advanced materials and computer software to make them work (more or less) as walls, and I’ve got a patron with enough dough to disregard... posted by Friedrich at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Saturday, February 23, 2008


Tiepolo's Hottie Madonnas
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wonder how he got away with it. The Madonna, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God -- a devotional figure central to the Catholic Church -- traditionally has been depicted as a serene, perhaps somewhat distant, idealized, saintly woman. There have been countless depictions of her in painting and sculpture over many centuries, so there is no strict uniformity in what we see in museums, cathedrals, parish churches and on household walls of the devout. Still, I cannot recall seeing a intentionally ugly Virgin. My take is that she is usually shown as pretty, but in a restrained way. But one famous artist, the Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) painted Mary as a babe. Um, let me qualify that. He tended to pain her as an attractive women such as he could see daily on the streets, canals and plazas of Venice. Or like women we can see daily in the towns and cities where we live. Unlike stylized women that tended to appear in non-portrait paintings until the late 19th century, Tiepolo's Madonnas and female saints look normal. Plus, they have sex appeal. One would think that painting Modonnas with sex appeal would have led Tiepolo to the stake or at least a public recantation. But no, he was hugely successful, his paintings and frescoes appearing in churches in many Venetian neighborhoods and elsewhere in northern Italy as well as Spain, where he ended his career. And he's perhaps most famous for ceilings, the most noteworthy of all in the Residenz of the Prince Bishop of Würtzburg. Here are some examples. The original paintings are so large and full of figures that the Virgin's face can be hard to see on a computer screen; I strongly recommend that you find a book about Tiepolo to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. I notice that English translations or versions of titles can vary considerably, perhaps because some Tiepolo works might not have had formal titles in the first place (I'm speculating). So the titles I use here might not agree with titles shown in Tiepolo books. Gallery Immaculate Conception - 1767-69 Immaculate Conception - 1767-69 (detail) Out Lady of Carmel - 1721-27 Out Lady of Carmel - 1721-27 (detail) The Virgin Appearing to St. Philip Neri - 1740 Virgin Appearing to Dominican Saints - 1747-48 Alternative title: The Virgin Mary with Saints Catherine, Rose of Lima and Agnes of Montepulciano. Apparition of the Virgin to St. Simon Stock - c.1748-49 Alternate title: The Virgin Mary presenting the Scapular to St. Simon Stock. In all the paintings shown above (aside, perhaps, from the one of St. Philip Neri), Mary has a haughty look. And, with nearly closed eyes, see seems (to me, at least) sensual rather than spiritual. This seems most pronounced in the St. Simon Stock painting, which you will have to find in a book to get the full effect. In the painting of Mary with Sts. Catherine, Rose... posted by Donald at February 23, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, February 22, 2008


Frozen Mischief
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another excellent large-scale prank from ImprovEverywhere. My favorite overheard remarks: "It's some kind of protest, probably." "Either that or an acting class." Very Dada, no? Here's a sensible look at a new Dada exhibition from the Times of London. Verdict: A fun moment of wild mischief -- but what kind of sense does it make to give Dada a lot of museum space? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments





Thursday, February 21, 2008


Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Charles Siegel thinks that John Silber's new anti-starchitecture book doesn't go far enough in its condemnation of absurd buildings. * Charles Siegel is also the author of a small new book that I just finished reading with a great deal of pleasure, "An Architecture for Our Time: The New Classicism." In the first part of his book, Siegel brings us up to the present: How have we come to be living in a world where absurd architecture is the standard / accepted thing? Charles supplies the best short answer to this question that I've ever read. In the second half of the book, he offers an argument for reviving architectural classicism. It's the book's manifesto section, and it's stirring and stimulating --- you don't have to agree with Charles' every point to find a visit with his mind and his thoughts very rewarding. Let me add that the book is beautifully scaled: While it's a short, fast, and fun read, the amount of knowledge, experience, brains, and wisdom that Charles packs in per word is awfully impressive. As a writer / publisher, Charles is resourceful and entrepreuneurial. He offers a book of idiosyncratic length -- as long as it needs to be but no longer -- in hard-copy, HTML, and downloadable-PDF versions. Snag a copy here. Charles runs the Preservation Institute and blogs here. * Sigh: Some atrocious concrete-bunker-style high-rise apartment buildings a few blocks from where I live in Greenwich Village may soon be officially declared landmarks -- yet another example of how the preservation movement (which was founded in order to combat the depradations of architectural modernism) has been captured by establishment modernists. Benjamin Hemric, who often offers erudite and insightful commentary here at 2Blowhards, gets off a number of informed and sensible comments on the New York Times's blogposting about the brouhaha. * MBlowhard Rewind: Back here, I wrote about the hideosity of the modernist urban form known as "towers in the park," and included a couple of snapshots of the awful I.M. Pei buildings that may now be declared landmarks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 21, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Urban Squeezing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's not yet Hong Kong. Or even Manhattan. Not yet, anyway. But I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle's planners and their political and media allies, deep down in their hearts, would like the city to resemble those places. When I was growing up, Seattle was a city of detached houses. There were a few areas with "high rise" (in Seattle's case, six floors and higher) apartment buildings. Other areas had lower-density apartments. But apartments were decidedly the exception, not the rule. For the last few decades, in the name of saving the planet, Seattle zoning has encouraged both high (including 30+ floors) and low rise apartment buildings. Detached housing is still allowed, but lots have been subdivided in halves or thirds and the new structures pretty much fill the available land. A new kind of housing hereabouts is the townhouse -- something I'd previously encountered in San Francisco and large cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Here are some recently-built examples. The lower photo shows the driveway and parking situation in greater detail than the top photo -- basically an "establishment" shot as they say in the movie trade. There seems to be a little problem here for many car owners: where is the room to maneuver a car into those garages tucked under the houses? I'm pretty sure my car (the blue one at the right of the top photo) could never make it. Therefore, I have to conclude that Our City Masters really want us to drive one of these: That's if we are so brazenly anti-Earth to own a car in the first place. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 19, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments





Friday, February 15, 2008


Paul Avril
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why didn't our college art-history profs tell us anything about Paul Avril? (NSFW.) I bet a lot more boys would develop an interest in the arts if only their teachers would introduce them to artists like Paul Avril. Here are some of Avril's illustrations for "Fanny Hill." Gotta love the strictness of his neoclassicism. Thwack! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, February 8, 2008


A Quick Rant
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve wonders about the most important Americans where culture and art go. It's a fun and provocative posting. In my comment on it, I headed off at a bit of a tangent and babbled my way into incoherence. But I was pleased with myself anyway. Here's my comment Fun, as ever. Still, this phrase -- "There's an obvious high culture / academic orientation to the lists" -- makes me want to say, "Hell, yeah. And that's a major problem, particularly where the American arts go." Look (I'm addressing myself to Charles Murray, I guess, or to scholars, or something): America has *seldom* been fabulously strong where high culture is concerned. We've had a few moments and a few peaks. But our high culture has mostly been strained and tight -- it has mostly represented a striving in the direction of Euro ideals. And since we seldom feel as entitled to "culture" as the Euros do, we seldom enter into and flourish there in similar ways. Our market, if you will, for high culture has always been a skimpy and beleaguered one, and the art we've produced for it has almost always reflected that fact. In fact, we often seem to spend more time complaining about how Americans don't care about fine art than we do actually creating and enjoying the stuff. On the other hand, where the popular, commercial and folk arts go (as well as homegrown eccentrics, and one-of-a-kinds, and make-it-up-as-they-go types), we're perfectly amazing. The two biggest triumphs of 20th century art? In terms of oomph, scale, reach, and popularity, how can you beat Hollywood-style movies and African-American (and Af-Am-influenced) music? And it's (IMHO) quite something to open up a discussion of American culture while overlooking sitcoms, the blues, standup comedy, rock and hiphop, popular dancing, acting, commercial fiction ... (Incidentally, I'm obvoiusly ranting here, not addressing anyone in particular, aside from some academically-oriented snobs ...) But that's always a problem when you let academics and intellectuals define what's meant by culture, isn't it? They're going to tend to treat as "culture" what their idea of "culture" is. Which means that if they're intellectually-inclined (and what intellectual isn't?) they're going to show a preference for more-rather-than-less intellectual art. And if they're Euro-academically inclined, they're going to think of "culture" as something that's kinda-sorta French, or maybe German. Which results in the tangle we have: a class of gatekeeper-types who insist on applying Euro-intellectual standards to a culture-verse that doesn't actually have a whole lot to do with Euro-intellectual standards. And who mostly find us lacking. I like Charles Ives myself, but I also think Chuck Berry was a hell of a composer. Like it or not, we aren't a second-rate Euro-culture. We're our own kooky scene. Or bundle of scenes. An example of how applying-inappropriate-standards steers people wrong: Someone with a strong conviction that lyric poetry is the truest-purest kind of art there is could look at Ancient Rome and say, "Well,... posted by Michael at February 8, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments





Thursday, February 7, 2008


Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Witold Rybczynski asks a sensible question: Are avant-garde architects really ahead of their time? "The truth is that buildings belong firmly to their own time," writes Rybczynski. "This is especially true of architecture that self-consciously attempts to predict the future." (Link thanks to Mike Snider.) * Speaking of absurd architecture, it's always good fun to check in with James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month. I complained back here about how blindingly shiney many modern buildings are. * Valerie Easton confesses that she was inspired to write about gardens when she read Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language." A lot of people have found "A Pattern Language" to be very inspiring. * Here's a hyper-condensed (as in, it shouldn't take you more than two minutes to flip through it) look at the Alexander approach. * Charlton Griffin turned up this haunting guide to some of the former Soviet Union's abandoned structures. * Thanks to Michael Bierut for pointing out an Esquire article about the worst building in the world. * Dave Lull turns up a good Noah Waldman essay for First Principles about the meaning of the classical-architecture revival. What's it all about? And why is it happening now? * Katie Hutchison pens an ode to a lovely porch, suggests tackling the infrastructure first, and researches Samuel McIntire, a Salem, Mass., neoclassical master. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Roger on Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull for alerting me to this impressive New Criterion piece by Roger Scruton. In it, Scruton (a philosopher as well as one of the best writers on architecture around) reviews three books that share an anti-starchitecture stance. He likes them all, but saves his most enthusiastic words for "A Theory of Architecture" by 2Blowhards fave (and occasional contributor) Nikos Salingaros. Scruton writes: "No reader of A Theory of Architecture can fail to recognize the seriousness of tone, and the profundity of observation that went into the writing of this book, or to appreciate the many insights, both into the beauty of the old vernacular styles, and into the empty offensiveness of the modern." That's some high (and well-deserved) praise. Nikos is (IMHO) an important and much-underrecognized thinker, and it's very pleasing to see the world begin to take note. Buy a copy of Nikos' "A Theory of Architecture" here. His "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" is pretty damn great too (and features introductions by Jim Kalb and yours truly). Visit Nikos' very generous website here. To enjoy a wide-ranging five-part interview with Nikos, go to the top of 2Blowhards and click on "Interviews." Nikos is in the midst of delivering a stimulating online lecture series. Get to videos of his talks by visiting this page, scrolling to the bottom, and calling 'em up. Here's Roger Scruton's website. I loved this Scruton book about architecture, and found these short popular works of his about philosophy and culture terrific -- easy to enjoy and very brain-opening. Read an interview with Roger Scruton here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lakis Polycarpou wonders why so many people think that the aesthetic and the practical are at odds. Lakis relies heavily on Christopher Alexander and Nikos Salingaros.... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Friday, February 1, 2008


I Am Not Worthy
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some excerpts from an email recently sent around by an organization called Americans For the Arts: One of our main objectives is to support and secure federal, state, and local education policies that provide students a balanced education and prepare them to compete in a globally innovative and creative workforce ... Americans for the Arts maintains that arts education develops the precise set of skills students need in order to thrive in a global economy that is driven by knowledge and ideas ... Formalize an incentive program to hire arts educators and strengthen the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education through revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act ... Now, I have tended to think of myself as a pretty committed culturebuff. But this email has got me thinking that perhaps I've been mistaken. After all, my hopes for culture have zero to do with the agenda of Americans for the Arts. Personally I'd love to see people free their experience of the arts from the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, and worthy-nonprofit types, 90% of whom seem to me to be devoted to bleeding the arts of everything I love the arts for. * Some headlines and taglines from recent issues of the highbrow lit magazines Bookforum and The Boston Review: Slave Trade On Trial Richard Locke on Pat Barker Jyoti Thottqm on Tahmima Anam's "A Golden Age" Matthew Price on Richard M. Cook's "Alfred Kazin: A Biography" Vivian Gornick: Hannah Arendt's Jewish Problem J.K. Bishop: The Art of Dying Peter Terzian on William Maxwell's Early Novels and Stories Now, I'm a big reader, and during one 15 year stretch I even followed the NYC publishing world -- and new literary fiction -- pretty closely. Yet I'm never, ever going to read any of those pieces. In fact, I look at Tables of Contents like these and think, "Isn't it amazing? Some people are still arguing about Alfred Kazin, Hannah Arendt, William Maxwell, and slavery." I also can't tell you how bizarre I find it that not a single word reflecting an interest in entertainment values appears in any of those headlines. Real intellectuals apparently have a hard time staying awake when topics like suspense, humor, characterization, plotting, sexiness, pacing, and identification come up. I guess I have no choice but to say it loud and say it proud: I am 1) not a Worthy Artsperson, and 2) certainly not a Serious Reader. Funny how good it feels to get these two admissions out there in public. Back here I wrote about what I called "the Arts Litany" -- the list of beliefs and convictions that arts people are expected to hold. FvBlowhard responded here. Do you keep up with any of the heavyweight art-or-lit mags? If so, what on earth do you get out of it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments





Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Starchitects Win Work
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Zaha Hadid will be designing an art museum for Michigan State University. Have a look at what she's gifting our Midwest with: MBlowhard verdict: Chic transnational zigzaggy gleamingness -- cozy! But even as a place to park tractors and weed-whackers it seems unfinished. Steven Holl wins the job of designing some new "design arts" buildings for Princeton. I wasn't able to find a visual of what Holl has in mind for P.U. But here's a recent building that Holl did for the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City: MBlowhard verdict: When oh when will avant-garde -- er, make that establishment -- architects tire of their fascination with shoeboxes? Where glowy abstract shapes go, I prefer Japanese paper lamps, thankyouveddymuch. Since the 1950s, Princeton has sponsored some of the worst of contemporary architecture. It's as though the people who run the university have been on a mission to deface the beautiful campus that they've been entrusted with. With Demitri Porphyrios' new-traditional Whitman College (largely funded by eBay's Meg Whitman), it seemed for a moment that the university had seen sense, and had even begun to repair the damage -- John Massengale offers a terrific tour of Whitman College here. But I guess today's administator class will always revert to type. Pretty funny that glitzy loading docks and oversized perfume counters are what our architecture establishment sees fit to sell isn't it? If that's what passes for "architectural excitement," perhaps we'd all be better off without it. John Massengale raises astonished eyebrows at the pretentious crappiness -- er, make that the "architectural excitement" -- of the Akron Art Museum's new addition. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments





Monday, January 28, 2008


Un-Masterly Anatomy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I freely admit that my art training was sketchy -- in the superficial sense (see here, for example). It can be tempting to blame that, rather than lack of competence, for the large doses of mediocrity my paintings possess. But the sad truth is, I don't quite have the art species of Right Stuff. From what I've read, art school training generally hasn't improved much since my student days. Perhaps that's one reason so much Po-Mo painting depicting people is so poorly done. Maybe all those claims of trying to be "edgy" are excuses for inability to draw anatomically correct human beings. But what about the Masters? Masters received extensive apprenticeships or, later, academic training that included lots and lots of drawing. They surely would get anatomy right. Well ... not always. One Master who was notoriously casual with the human form was Jean-August-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919) had his bad moments as well. I suppose this ought to give me a little hope. Let's look: Gallery Ingres - Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière - 1805 The young subject died two years after the painting was completed, so might have been sickly. In any case, the area of the shoulders and upper torso seems too small. The left arm appears to be too large -- arm distortion being a recurring feature in Ingres' portraits. Ingres - Madame Marie-Geneviève-Marguerite de Senonnes - 1814 Here it is the right arm that looks a bit odd. Ingres - La Grande Odalisque - 1814 Her back seems too long. Ingres - Comtesse Louise-Albertine d'Haussonville - 1845 Her upper right arm seems too long and rubbery. Renoir - The Umbrellas - 1881-85 Renoir also could have arm trouble. The woman with the basket has a left arm that is too long above the elbow and too short below. Renoir - Dance in the City - 1883 The woman was posed by artist Suzanne Valadon. Her ear seems placed too high on her head. Renoir - Suzanne Valadon - 1885 This time, he got it right -- assuming her right ear (shown here) is actually placed opposite her left one. Toulouse-Lautrec - The Hangover - (Suzanne Valadon) - 1888 Another take on Valadon. I can find no photo of her that shows her ears. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 28, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments





Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Nikos Lectures
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not to intrude on the flow of FvBlowhard's magnificent "New Class" series of postings -- go here and here... But I don't want to miss the chance to alert visitors to a welcome treat. Mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros will be delivering a series of fab-sounding lectures online on the theme of how to create buildings and spaces that have life-giving properties. Scaling, fractals, cellular automata ... If terms like those make you dizzy with interest and delight, then you won't want to miss out. Watch Nikos show how cutting-edge science can be merged with the arts and crafts. Algorithms, harmonies, and emergent systems meet the New Urbanism -- go, baby, go! This page contains details and dates. This page will keep an archive of the lectures for catch-up viewing. Lecture #1 -- on recursion, the Fibonacci Sequence, and scaling -- hits the web this Thursday. Hey, that's tomorrow. What with resources like the Teaching Company, the Mises Institute, and now Nikos, it's quite amazing what civilians have easy access to in the way of intellectually stimulating talks these days. Let no one say that this isn't a great time for those who love keeping their brains alive. If you haven't already, be sure to read the 2Blowhards interview with Nikos Salingaros: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. It's as mind-expanding as anything we've published. Nikos' own website is here. I notice that another amazing thinker, traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb, has been mulling over some architectural questions recently: here, here, and here. 2Blowhards did a three-part interview with Jim: here, here, here, with an intro by moi here. Now, back to FvBlowhard's magnum opus ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2008 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Bischoff of California Impressionism
Donald Pittenger writes: Last month I wrote an introductory post about a group of plein air painters known as the California Impressionists. Previously, I wrote about Arthur Mathews, one of the group. In the first article linked above, I tried to avoid including images from the best of the California Impressionists because I wanted to save that ammo for better uses, namely feature posts. So today, I offer Franz Bischoff, an artist who made his mark in two fields: ceramic decoration and easel painting. There doesn't seem to be a lot of biographical information about Bischoff on the Internet, but here is an item about him on the Irvine Museum's site. (By the way, the Irvine Museum is small, but has an outstanding collection of California Impressionist paintings.) Bischoff (1864-1929) was born in Bomen, Austria and studied applied design, watercolor and ceramic decoration in Vienna before emigrating to the United States in 1885. He began his career as a china decorator in New York City, continuing in this field while relocating in Pittsburgh, Fostoria, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan (1892). By the turn of the century he had gained fame in this line of work, at one point operating two schools. Bischoff's first encounter with California was in 1900. He was so smitten that, in 1906, he closed his business and moved his family to the Los Angeles area where he pursued a new career as a painter. Success in painting came as rapidly as it had in ceramic decoration, though he did maintain a small hand in the latter field. His California stay was interrupted in 1912 for an extended visit to Europe where he studied the art of Old Masters and French Impressionists. Gallery Franz Bischoff in his Dearborn studio, around 1900 Example of Bischoff vase Carmel Coast The reproduction of this painting I have in a book is less red-looking. Thr lightest surfaces on the big rocky areas are yellow. There are a few patches of tinted Indian Red in the foreground, the same color appearing in the clouds. Since it looks better, I assume the book version is more true to the original than the image I grabbed off the web. Clounds Drifting Over the Mountains Cypress Point Picking Flowers Bischoff didn't limit himself to flowers and landscapes. Here he adds humans to a country scene. The Yellow Dress Another painting featuring people; landscape is almost entirely missing. More posts on major California Impressionist painters will appear from time to time. But Bischoff, because he painted ceramics, plein air landscapes and human fugures, gets my vote as being the most versatile of the lot. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 15, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, January 10, 2008


A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I raved about a Paul Cantor lecture series about culture and commercial life. A few days later I treated myself to a niggle with one small aspect of Cantor's series. (Short version: Cantor's version of "art history" is more conventional than the one I prefer.) In this posting, I'm going to register another quibble with the series. A quick reminder not to take me seriously when I say that I'm quibbling. Cantor's series is sensationally good -- as in really-really, double-deep, better-than-anything-I-had-in-college good. Cantor is realistic, shrewd, knowledgeable, helpful, and provocative. His ideas and his facts ring bells and set off thoughts. And it's a really-really, double-deep great thing that he (and the Mises Institute) have made his talks available online for free. So these postings of mine aren't really disagreements with him at all. I love Cantor's series, and I recommend it highly. All I'm doing is riffing on themes that he has laid down. Quibble #2: The question of folk and amateur art. Cantor's main goal in his lecture series is to get listeners over any artsy-fartsy, romantic cultural snobbishness towards commercialism. He accomplishes this brilliantly, as far as I'm concerned. He points out that (for instance) such immortal titans as Shakespeare, Rubens, and Dickens were, in their time, butt-kicking, scrappy creativity-entrepreneurs who were doing their best to thrive in lively culture-market contexts. Cantor is just as insightful about his fellow intellectuals, profs, and culture-critics. He points out, for instance, that it took the intellectuals many decades to acknowledge that movies -- which are now generally felt to have been the dominant art form of the 20th century -- were an art form at all. "Cultural critics are usually a generation if not a century behind in terms of their responses and observations," Cantor wisecracks, and hats off to him for being so blunt about this fact. It's a big help to get the "experts" in a little perspective. Cantor is terrific, in other words, at exploring the relationships between creators, audiences, and evaluators, as well as between high art and popular art. Part of what makes his case so compelling, by the way, is that -- despite his openness to popular art -- he digs high art too. He isn't some defiantly uncultured populist doing his crude best to defile the finer things. He's simply a very educated and enthusiastic guy who is realistic about how culture works. And here's where I locate space for my little contribution. In the midst of the tensions between high art and commercial art that Cantor spells out and explores so well, what he leaves a little underrecognized is the question of folk art and amateur art. It's a dimension of the culture-thang that I think deserves recognition. Let me pass along a general snapshot of culture that I've found handy and useful. (I'm assuming that, like me, you sometimes find it useful to separate facts out into neat piles. Then -- whee... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Oh, Those Copycat Japanese
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was younger, Japan had the reputation of not being innovative. It copied this, that and other things from Western sources. This is understandable, given the Meiji Restoration and the Westernization it entailed. By the 1970s, the Japanese had pretty well assimilated Western technology and acquired a new reputation as innovators, particularly in the realm of consumer products. In art, Japan never had a copycat image. Rather, Japanese influence was strongly felt in late 19th century Europe, mostly in term of certain compositional practices and in the use of flat or nearly-flat areas of color. When I toured Claude Monet's house in Giverny, I was surprised to see wall after wall covered with small, framed Japanese prints. However, Japanese artists did try to copy Western art, even in the years of isolation. A recently-closed exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, in cooperation with the Kobe City Museum, presented Japanese paintings, maps and other artifacts that drew heavily on Western examples brought by Dutch traders to their Nagasaki compound during that era. Below are some images from the Seattle Art Museum web site, furnished to it courtesy of the Kobe City Museum. Note the use of linear perspective, oil paints and other Western touches. Since the 18th and early 19th centuries many Japanese artists were influenced by or even wholly converted to Western-style painting. But I thought you might find these early examples interesting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 9, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Dutton's Doings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm glad to see that the great Denis Dutton -- aesthetician, philosopher, and founder and editor of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily -- is up to substantial mischief. Don't miss his contribution to Edge's 2008 World Question, "What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" In it, Dutton recounts how shook up he was, as a good Darwinist, to think through the consequences of sexual selection. As he says, selection reintroduces "purpose" back into the evolutionary equation: The revelations of Darwin's later work ... have completely altered my thinking about the development of culture. It is not just survival in a natural environment that has made human beings what they are. In terms of our personalities we are, strange to say, a self-made species. As I mull over his point in my dimwitted way, I find myself thinking, Hmm, that certainly puts an end to determinism, and reintroduces that nasty "mystery of it all" category all over again, doesn't it? Fine by me! (Which reminds me: Going through some of the other responses to Edge's inspired question, I was tickled by the number of brilliant scientists who confess to a common experience: waking up one day to to the fact that science -- as freakily impressive and powerful an enterprise as it is -- doesn't, can't, and never will Explain It All. Geniuses, eh? I mean, any guy who has ever dated a few women, let alone gotten married, could have told you that there are phenomena that will never yield to rational explanation.) Dutton has also created a new best-of, one-stop, digest site for those interested in the climate-change issue: Climate Debate Daily. Check out what the mainstream is saying as well as what the skeptics are taking issue with. Climate Change Daily looks brilliant, and is already a-fizz with much enticing linkage. Here's hoping the site will promote the kind of wide and open debate in the eco-bio-climate-sphere that Arts & Letters Daily has fostered in the culturesphere. I'm triple-thrilled to see that Dutton also has a book scheduled to come out soon. Its subject: evolutionary biology and the arts. From its description, "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution" looks to be the book that I've been waiting for for a very long time: a comprehensive survey of the way that evolutionary theory and neuroscience affect our view of the arts. I'm also hoping that Dutton's book -- which should go on sale in July -- will be the book that will stimulate one of the longest-overdue conversations that I'm aware of: the one about what kind of sense it makes to think of art as socially-constructed, let alone a progressive force. Really, I'm hoping that Dutton's book will topple the current artchat and art-thought regime entirely. I happened to tune into this scene early on, and its views and contributions clicked with me instantly. Evo-bio (and neuroscience) struck me as very effective antidotes to the politicized, substance-free, and unhelpful... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments




Cities and Icons
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I've traveled over much of the United States, that travel took place over such a long span of time that I haven't been to some cities in 20, 30 or even 40 years. Over that much time, their skylines change; 60 years ago cities with 25+ story buildings were rare and now they are a lot more common. But the key thing is that those modern skyscrapers usually look pretty much alike, and so do the cities that contain them. That's why, when I see a photo of a city in, say, an advertisement, I often have no idea what place it is. This isn't always the case, of course. Consider this photo that I took recently: Most of you will instantly recognize the setting as Honolulu because the famous Diamond Head volcano cone is in the background. This picture was taken from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, hence the pink accents on the beach gear. What you need to realize is that Diamond Head is iconic. Unless a city has some sort of icon -- be it a building, the physical setting, whatever -- it will be nondescript, especially to people not familiar with it. Here are some city photos for your consideration. How many cities do you recognize? Gallery City "A" City "B" City "C" City "D" City "E" City "F" City "G" City "H" The cities are: A = Charlotte, NC; B = Rochester, NY; C = Columbus, OH; D = Kansas City, MO; E = Denver, CO; F = San Francisco, CA; G = New York City; and H = Seattle, WA. I suppose most of you correctly guessed the last three cities -- San Francisco, New York and Seattle. San Francisco because of its setting and perhaps because of the pyramidal Transamerica building. The New York picture shows the famous Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, though the latter might be harder to recognize because many people aren't familiar with its night time lighting schemes. Seattle is known because of the Space Needle in the foreground, though a Needle-less photo that included Mt. Rainier in the background might have been equally useful for identification. I haven't been in the other cities (except Denver) for decades and probably would have failed to identify any except perhaps Columbus (thanks to the pre-WW2 tower towards the center-left of the photo). How about you? Actually, there's no truly important reason why a city has to be so distinctive that people from the other side of the country or even overseas can identity it instantly. Iconic status isn't a necessity for a nice lifestyle. Still, isn't there such a thing as icing on the cake? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments





Thursday, January 3, 2008


A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I recommended a free, downloadable audio lecture series by Paul Cantor about culture and the market. Today and tomorrow I'm treating myself to a few quibbles with Cantor. Let me say first that this is entirely unfair of me. Cantor is (IMHO) helpful, brilliant, accurate, healthy, and entertaining. He's undogmatic, streetwise, and (especially for a prof) amazingly respectful of actual experience. He's also sophisticated, nuanced, and appreciative -- of art itself and of life's many ironies. Besides, Cantor's point in his lecture series isn't to provide a Compleat Account of art and culture but rather to help culturefans cast off their usual anti-commercial bias. He means his lectures to be a corrective to the usual nonsense, and he achieves his goal wonderfully. But I'm going to treat myself to a few quibbles anyway. Please understand though that I'm not really quarreling with Cantor. I'm on the same team as he is. I'm taking issue with him only for the sake of making my writing challenge a little easier. In reality, I'm just adding my own two cents to the conversation. The first of my points: The art history thing. Cantor gives a fresh and realistic account of art history, one that's infinitely more true to the facts than is the one usually sold by schools and by the media. Bravo, excellent, superb, etc. My quibble: The "art history" that Cantor discusses strikes me as very narrowly defined. He accepts the usual list of greats, as well as much of the storytelling that connects the dots between them. In painting, for instance, the conventional art-history story goes: Renaissance- Baroque- Neoclassical- Romantic- Impressionist- Cubist-Surrealist-AbEx, etc etc. Cantor's evidently OK with that story; he just wants it told in a truer-to-life-than-usual way. Me, I'm not OK with it. I mean, there "art history" is, and that's OK with me, of course. But I'm also struck by the fact that there's so much more to the story of "visuals" than the "art history" version of it. In fact, the more I awaken to the actual facts of visual culture, the more I lose interest in the conventional "art history" part of it. Art history (in the usual sense) is a fine topic, but it's no more than one small chapter in the very large book that contains the record of how humans have decorated themselves and their world, have expressed themselves in visual terms, and have made life more lively and rewarding in visual ways. A few examples of what you don't often run across in "art history": erotic photography, food packaging, jewelry, typography, television graphics, greeting cards, automobile design, book jackets, movie posters, sports visuals, clothing, lingerie, computer graphics, glamor lighting, magazine design, makeup ... Not to mention how individuals decorate their homes, dress themselves, do their hair, etc. Did I mention lingerie? Oh, I see that I did. Well, I hereby mention it again. The people who design, manufacture, and promote lingerie... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments





Sunday, December 23, 2007


Pic of the Day
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I have to confess a secret shame. Despite my very real admiration and attraction to the Impressionist school of landscape painting (including both the canonical French masters and the California school), I like Romantic landscape painting even better. There, it feels good to get that off my chest. I'm not saying I don’t have issues with Romanticism generally, although when push comes to shove most of my issues are actually with the way Modernism filed the serial numbers off of any number of Romantic notions and then misused most of them in the 20th century. But I have no issues at all with Romantic landscape painting. It's big, it's vast, it's cosmic, it's Deistic or polytheistic, and heck, it's often (although not always) amazingly brightly colored. It can combine the Big Picture with reassuring little passages of detailed description. It often transparently glues together different moments of time, different sources of illumination and absurd disjunctions of scale. All this makes me ridiculously happy, although I can assure you that I've dutifully absorbed many lectures about how modern landscape painting is morally superior because it refuses to do any of these inherently fun things. Anyway, it’s always a thrill to come across a new artist that I like, or at least an artist that is new to me. That’s why I’m posting this picture by an artist whose work I never laid eyes on before today, despite the fact that he died 120 years ago. Feast your eyes on this painting by Peder Balke (1804-1887), a Norwegian painter who, according to Wikipedia, …was known for portraying the nature of Norway in a positive manner and influenced a dramatic and romantic view of Norwegian landscape. Balke, P., Stedtind i tåke, 1864 You can see more pictures by Balke and read more about him here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at December 23, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Thursday, December 20, 2007


Art School Confidential
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few weeks ago, Friedrich called my attention to James Elkins' book Why Art Cannot be Taught. I read it and found it a little hard to follow. Maybe that's because I've had a cold and couldn't focus. Or, more likely, my feeble mind can't deal with even semi-scholarly material any more. Nevertheless, I found the book interesting because it presents an inside view of art schools (in this case, the school at the Chicago Art Institute, circa 2000). My own art school experience was quite different from Elkins' description. Aside from the 40-year time difference, I went to a large state university and wound up majoring in Commercial Art, not the same breed of cat as Fine Arts. Elkins deals mostly with the critique, which apparently is how BFA and MFA students are evaluated and directed in their progress. This kind of critique involves up to half a dozen faculty members from various fields (not all from the student's field) "tasked" with evaluating the work and/or the student herself. (Note the "herself." Elkins annoyingly uses a female generic gender rather than the traditional male generic. Doubtless this is a noble gesture on his part, but it brought me to a halt every time I encountered it.) The critiques I experienced in studio classes took place after the class had partly or entirely completed a project -- painting a portrait, say. The instructor would walk from easel to easel and make a few comments. No faculty herd, which I suppose must have been reserved for Masters level students. One thing that struck me was how many fields are now considered worthy of instruction in art schools and college art programs. Since my students days, photography, textiles, video, performance, computer, neon, holography, kinetic sculpture, installation and other "arts" have been added to the curriculum. I'm ashamed that I've never thought to get on the internet and look up what various leading schools are offering: it should be interesting. Elkins acknowledges that the general public does not look at artists in as kindly a light as artist students themselves do. He also stresses that art students reflect their own times (and influences) to such a degree that, after a period of years, one student's work seems indistinguishable from all the others. And this is likely to be true for all the presumed inventiveness of today's art school; in 50 years the probability is that the stuff will look pretty similar. Moreover, almost no student currently enrolled is likely to ever be self-supporting by art sales, and even fewer will be "known" even locally. Nevertheless, cohorts of students continue to pass through the educational system and faculty members congregate time and again to conduct critiques that, in the long run, are likely to be meaningless in the history of art. Elkins makes the following claims about what students cannot learn in today's art schools and colleges (pages 72-82): Art that involves traditional techniques. Art that takes time.... posted by Donald at December 20, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Architecture and Urbanism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Charles Paul Freund documents a juicy case of preservationism gone loony. * New York Magazine's Year in Architecture sure isn't my year in architecture. * John Massengale has a funny go at a typical New York Times architecture review. It would be sooooo much easier on the nerves if the Times would just admit, once and for all, that they don't run architecture coverage, let alone architecture criticism. Instead, they run starchitecture propaganda. * Town planners have a lot to answer for, writes Stephen McClarence. * These days, it looks like it's the starchitects (and their sponsors) as well as the planners who have it in for our cities. Check out this recently approved addition for the Tate Modern, for example. Does that say "London" to you? It says "Vegas-gone- deconstructionist" to me. * Here's an excellent introduction to the heterodox architect and theorist Christopher Alexander, a hero of mine. Here's the transcript of a legendary debate between Alexander and avant-gardist Peter Eisenman. * Katie Hutchison thinks that there's little that's as beautiful as a worn, painted floor. * MBlowhard Rewind: The architecture establishment would like you to believe that the history of architecture is the record of one blazing innovation after another. Back here, I argued that architecture history is better understood as a series of revivals. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Fab Freebies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lexington Green points out an amazing free resource -- the website of Alan Macfarlane, a topnotch British prof and anthropologist with a special interest in economics. Macfarlane, who is well-known in Britain for his popularizations as well as for his academic achievements, has put an almost overwhelming amount of his work online: books, lectures, interviews, research, and more. I've only begun to scratch the surface of what Macfarlane has made available but my head is already spinning in the most pleasant of ways. Check out this jaw-dropping collection of interviews with prominent anthropologists and sociologists, for just one instance of what's there to be explored. Download 'em and put 'em on your iPhone. I'm looking especially forward to the talks with Clifford Geertz, Mary Douglas, and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Lex describes Macfarlane as "anti-Marxist" and "sensible and empirical," and he calls Macfarlane one of his own intellectual heroes. That's one terrific recommendation. Lex suggests starting with this TV series, as well as this collection of downloadable e-books. * Thanks to visitor Brian for pointing out this Paul Cantor lecture series about culture and the market from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. (Where has Brian been recently? I miss his brains, humor, and spirit.) I'm about midway through the series and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. Cantor is brainy, exuberant, and very likable -- a wisecracking and irreverent, yet truly culture-entranced, guy. He's a spritzer, and he's very spontaneous, so the talks are alive. Yet he manages to keep his material organized too. To do Cantor a small injustice, his theme here is, "Commercialism ain't bad." And his main goal in the series is to get people with an interest in culture over the cultureworld's usual anti-commercial bias. In this, his series resembles Tyler Cowen's "In Praise of Commercial Culture," a book that looks with every passing year more and more like one of the most important arts books of the past few decades. (Here's a semi-informative review of Cowen's book.) Cantor is very generous in acknowledging Cowen's work, as well as the contributions of other researchers and writers. Hey, here's a discovery that you make if / when you go into the cultureworld: Most of what you wind up talking about with other arts and culture types isn't ideas and aesthetics. Conversation inside the NYC cultureworld is often anything but highflown, in fact. Usually what you wind up talking is jobs, money, grants, and gossip. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Artspeople gotta pay the bills too, and this is their shoptalk. Still, it's one of those disappointments that culture-besotted newbies have to look forward to. The sad fact is that if you're hungry for sizzling yak about the arts, generally speaking you gotta turn elsewhere. Cantor is sensible and vivid on some really important questions: The market as a feedback mechanism, for example. It's common to think of "the market" as something that degrades the purity of aesthetic creations, and there's no question... posted by Michael at December 18, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, December 17, 2007


Schjerfbeck's Drift to Modernism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Finland produced some interesting artists who were active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I wrote about Albert Edelfelt here and Axel Gallén (Akseli Gallén-Kallela) here. Another artist whose work impressed me a few years ago as I made a mad, just-before-closing-time dash through Helsinki's Ateneum was Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946). Although she lived into her 80s, Schjerfbeck was sickly and faced economic problems early in life. Biographical information can be found here and here. What interested me was Schjerfbeck's transition from being a traditional/realist to a Modernist painter. This was made quite clear because the Ateneum devoted an entire room to her work and all I had to do was stroll along the walls and note the paintings' dates. The following Gallery section should give you a sense of what I saw. Gallery The Convalescent - 1888 In her mid-20s Schjerfbeck was still painting in a mainstream non-Impressionist style; her brushwork and sketchy background suggest John Singer Sargent's work. Portrait of a Young Girl - 1886 Painted two years before the painting shown above, this work is sketchier, but still within parameters set by the better non-Impressionists elsewhere in Europe. I find this a very satisfying painting aside perhaps for a minor quibble about the treatment of the girl's garment. The Seamstress - 1903 By the dawn of the 20th century Schjerfbeck edged away from free brushwork to a more "designed" approach. Again, a satisfying work because the stylization is kept under control. Self-Portrait - 1915 Modernist influence has now sunk in. Whereas the face is correctly proportioned, what can be seen of the torso seems distorted. The painting style has moved from "sketchy" to highly stripped-down. Schjerfbeck's good compositional sense remains intact. Einar Reuter - 1919 Modernism has taken hold completely. All the qualities I liked in the Schjerfbeck paintings shown above are gone. Varjo Muurilla - 1928 Better composition and color use than for the Einar Reuter portrait. Pretty abstract, but nice. The last painting shown above seems better than what I remember seeing at the Ateneum. My impression was that Schjerfbeck's work had pretty well gone to pot before 1920 in a quest to be "with it." Even so, she still had enough compositional and color sense to salvage a little something during and after abandoning her younger approach. Many of her contemporaries who were seduced by Modernism (or felt compelled to switch out of fear of losing sales) were less successful. If I can find good examples of this, I'll pass them along. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 17, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Walter Dean Goldbeck Illustrations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nothing profound here. Just a few illustrations circa 1910-20 from an illustrator no one seems to know much about today. His name is Walter Dean Goldbeck, apparent dates 1882-1925. An item about him can be found here (scroll down). The first two picture don't strike me as being anything special, but the two at the bottom seem nicely done. Enjoy. Gallery Woman as Deity From "The Bear's Claw" From "The Shogun's Daughter" The Light of New York - ad for General Electric, c. 1911-14 Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Best-Ofs, 2007 Edition
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen reviews some of this year's best-of lists. In this long-ago posting about best-of lists, I cheered 'em, but I also asked critics a few questions about 'em. It's that time of year again, ain't it? Grinchly, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments





Monday, December 10, 2007


Derriere Guard Alert
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The ever-useful Arts & Letters Daily site offers this link to a December 2007 New Criterion article by James Panero about a group calling themselves the "Derriere Guard." Apparently the poor fools want to bring back "traditional forms and techniques" to art: In the fine arts, that means Classical Realism, a movement seeking to reunite beaux-arts technique with classical ideals through a loose network of schools, ateliers, and apprenticeships. This year’s Derriere Guard festival brought together a weekend of talks with presentations of realist art and classical architecture, poetry, dance, music, drawing [...] Panero begins with a put-down on Tom Wolfe because Wolfe doesn't like Abstract Expressionism and considers Picasso a fraud. Then he goes on to mention some Guard events, bringing the name of painter and art school proprietor Jacob Collins who is striving to roll back the Modernist tide rather than simply complain about it. But much of the piece is about Wolfe and suggests that he is some kind of conspiracy theorist regarding the promotion of Modernism. The last part of the article focuses on the Classical Realists (the artists, not the activist group) in a more sympathetic -- though equivocal -- manner, noting parallels with the struggles of the early Impressionists against the Establishment of their day. Altogether, a rambling essay with no clear, take-away idea. Perhaps that's because of a sort of feud between Wolfe and The New Criterion's founder and present co-editor/publisher, Hilton Kramer. Panero naturally sides with Kramer, much as National Review writers tend to avoid strongly disagreeing with William F. Buckley. For this reason, I read Panero with a wary eye. (Full disclosure: I'm a New Criterion subscriber.) As the for Derriere Guard, this is the first time I've heard about it. Chalk that up to living far from New York City or perhaps my habitual sloth and ignorance. It was nice to learn about the group and its activities. Modernism and its spawn remain far too powerful for the good of what's left of Western culture and, until it is cut down to its proper size, I welcome just about any group willing to join the fight against it. Now re-read the last sentence carefully. I did not advocate complete elimination of Modernism. Some 2Blowhards readers seem to think that's my position. Perhaps that's because, even though I was educated to like Modernism, I no longer care for much of it and am not shy about saying so. But not caring for something is not the same thing as hating it and wishing for its destruction. In an ideal world, I would like to see Modernism and, especially, Post-Modernism held to the same level of importance and prestige as our present cultural elites regard, say, Thomas Kinkade. And Picasso. Was Tom Wolfe correct to consider him a "fraud?" I think that shoe doesn't completely fit. "Clown" seems more accurate. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 10, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, December 7, 2007


What Will Last?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thursday takes up a Charles Murray challenge and lists some contempo-ish art-things that he thinks might still be vital in 200 years. It's a good list. Commenters at Steve's blog pitch in with a lot of suggestions and ideas. My response: I'm not sure that in 200 years anyone will be remembering anything from the past. Something we may take a little too for-granted is the existence of a Museum of Past Worthiness and Greatness. We maintain it, we argue over what deserves to be included, we teach it, we get upset (or cheer) when the canon is dissed, etc. What we don't do often enough is recognize that the existence of this Museum is a historical anomoly. In most places, at most times, people didn't maintain a Museum of Past Greatness. (Or if they did it was a much more informal one than our version.) They just lived, created, and enjoyed in the present. There was no Lincoln Center in 1700 Europe, keeping alive the "canon" of past musical greatness. There were just bands, composers, and audiences making and enjoying music in the present. Old music? It was done, over, forgotten. Art museums as we now think of them are themselves of very recent vintage. They're mainly creations of 19th century Europe. As for today ... Well, it seems to me that we're already in an era where people are living, creating, and enjoying in the present far more than they they did even in the very recent past. YouTube, Facebook, viral videos ... iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand ... In our mix-and-match, collage-it-together-for-yourself world, it's all about instant impact -- about making and enjoying and moving on. Look at the film world, for example. While the New Wave and '70s filmmakers discovered film history and made it their own, there aren't many contempo filmmakers who make any use at all of "film history." They couldn't care less. Today's hot and talented youngsters are involved with ads, TV, magazines, videos, performance art, and clothing styles, even with skateboarding and tattooing -- with stuff that's hot now. They just aren't that interested in film history, and certainly not in the museum sense. Since this seems to me to be the direction culture is going, my guess is that in 200 years museum-style "art history" itself will be a thing of the past. People with cultural inclinations are going to be making videos, collaging together music tracks, assembling Flash-like multimedia things. They'll be posting them online and social-networking them back and forth to each other -- and that'll be what "culture" will be. As for the artistic past? Seems to me likely that people will raid the past for ideas, because why not? But the history of art won't be a cultural presence in the "canon of greatness" sense, and almost no one will be taking part in "Does this deserve to be considered great?" conversations. To the extent it'll have any life at all, the cultural... posted by Michael at December 7, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments





Tuesday, December 4, 2007


DVD Journal: "Pulp Fiction Art"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given its title and its publicity material, you might expect the documentary "Pulp Fiction Art" to comprise a quick intro to the era of pulp-magazine fiction followed by interviews and encounters with, and bios and appreciations of, the artists who created the era's visuals. The film turns out instead to be more of a jumble than that: a zig-zaggy, 55 minute-long survey of the pulp fiction era generally, with some minutes with the artists (Norman Saunders, Ernest Chiriacka, a few others) crammed in here and there. But as modest as the film is -- and, yes, it did feel a bit like an opportunity lost -- I enjoyed it anyway. The overview it provides of the pulp-magazine era may resemble a disorganized term-paper, but it's still informative -- and newbies to the material will learn quite a lot. Many of the interviewees (especially some collectors and fans) are amazingly articulate about and appreciative of the art. And if the time the film spends with the actual artists and illustrators is 'way too small, that's still a lot better than no time spent on them at all, which is the treatment you'll find accorded to pulp-fiction artists in most histories of American art of the 20th century. Jamie McDonald, who made the film, never loses track of his subject's central irony: Although this really was an amazing episode in American visuals, almost no one was aware of the fact at the time. Highbrows of course turned up their noses. The artists thought they were doing mere commercial work, cranking out tawdry paintings for a sleazy market. Many of them had their sights focused on higher, fine-arty things; they often didn't even bother to sign their pulp work. Yet these lewd, exploitative images are turning out to be the art that they'll be remembered for. It's sad to be reminded of the fact that nearly all of the original paintings were simply thrown away once they'd been reproduced. Today the work of people like Rafael DeSoto and Margaret Brundage is much loved, enthusiastically enjoyed, and widely influential -- and collectors pay big bucks for the handful of originals that still do exist. As for the self-consciously significant work of that era? Well, some of it's still enjoyed too. Since the film is so skimpy and modest, it's a little hard to recommend a purchase. But why not put the film near the top of your Netflix queue? I'm very fond of this book, which includes lots of excellent reproductions of pulp fiction art. H.J. Ward, who specialized in illustrations for the "spicy" market and who made the image at the top of this posting, is a particular favorite of mine. (I found the image above at this website.) Someday I'm going to buy a copy of this book about the art of the "girly pulps." Semi-related: I wrote about the film "The Notorious Bettie Page" here; Donald wrote about pin-up art here and here; Friedrich wrote... posted by Michael at December 4, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Italian Efficiency
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The trains we rode during our recent Italian trip ran on time sometimes and only once were we seriously late on arrival. Otherwise, such delays as there were, were on the order of five or ten minutes. Il Duce Mussolini, wherever he is, must be displaying half a smile. Even more efficient -- or might I say dictarorial -- was the Galleria Borghese in Rome, home to such noted artworks as Antonio Canova's "Paulina Bonaparte as Venus Victrix." Paulina was Napoleon's wild kid sister who posed semi-nude for Canova. The Wikipedia entry for Canova is here (scroll to bottom for a Paulina picture). Nancy is a huge Canova fan, so a visit to the Borghese was a must. However, as we discovered, one doesn't casually bop into the place. Reservations are required. Luckily we were in Rome for enough days that we were able to get on the list. Things got even stickier once we arrived at the Borghese. It seems that visitors have a two hour time limit to see what they can -- half an hour in the paintings galleries and the balance viewing sculptures. I'm pretty fast when in museum-viewing mode and therefore didn't find out if, or how drastically, these time limits are enforced. In any case, we could linger in the museum shop/cafe area as long as we wished. Never experienced such a thing before. But rules are rules and not to be quibbled by foreigners. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Sunday, November 25, 2007


Las Vegas Goes Modernist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the Las Vegas Strip as we know and love it. But it changes moment by moment. Some of those changes are almost undetectably minor. Others have the potential to alter the character of the place. For instance, this is what I saw last week while we were on our annual visit: Hmm. No monster pyramids. Not a single half-size Eiffel Tower. Nor a 30-story Italian villa. I saw not a sign of fake pirate ships and toy volcanoes. No. It's, it's ... The Horror!!! ... Modernist Architecture! Modernist architecture in the form of the CityCenter project, a multi-billion dollar effort by our friends at MGM Grand that replaces a nondescript jumble of seedy stores and aging time-share condos. Here's what it might look like when completed: Here is the flashy official site -- but it might be handier to link here to its Wikipedia entry which contains under-construction photos and a set of views of projected final appearance. I have no idea what was on the minds of the geniuses behind CityCenter. Instead of letting Vegas be Vegas, a lesson that Robert Venturi famously urged architects to study, they opted to grace the strip with the artistic fruits of starchitects. The rogues gallery of architectural offices doing CityCenter buildings includes Cesar Pelli, Rafael Vinoli, Lord Norman Foster, Helmut Jahn and Daniel Libeskind. And I'm all but certain the results will be perfectly swell. If you love the sort of sterile, geometry-based glass 'n' steel structures that warms our hearts when we conjure images of New York City's Sixth Avenue -- with the switcheroo that some CityCenter buildings are curved! My head reels in admiration for such imaginative solutions. Will CityCenter wreck the Strip? Big though it is, it's still fairly small given the huge size of the place. So long as no similar projects are built, it won't fit in well, but might be tolerable. Tolerability might be enhanced if the owners pry loose starchitect hands at street level; lots of flash and pizazz for pedestrians would distract from the monster blandness of the tall, background structures. We Shall See. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Friday, November 23, 2007


Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've just enjoyed going through the website of Gabriella Morrison, a Canadian artist who left a perceptive comment on Donald's recent Italian-painters posting. A little Wayne Thiebaud, a little Emily Carr, a little Philip Pearlstein ... I'm just describing, by the way. I have no idea if Gabriella considers these painters to be influences. She makes quiet, warm, relaxed work that's also witty and incisive, and genuinely bohemian. It's the kind of art that makes me want to go take an art class -- which I mean as a high compliment. * I'm also lovin' the funky wooden bas-reliefs of Dutch artist Ron van der Ende: satellites, photocopy machines, and old cars presented with a captivating combo of model-making, little-boy mischievousness and grown-up gravity. * Figure-drawing buffs won't want to miss this marvelous animation. * Thanks to Jonathan Schnapp for pointing out Sexy Losers, an online comic strip about arty kids. Much of "Sexy Losers" is really filthy in an old-fashioned underground-comix way, so be warned. Or be delighted. * Michael Bierut wonders what it takes to do "ugly" design properly. * Michael also points out a terrifying set of pages from a 1975 J.C. Penny's catalogue. The '70s, eh? It's the decade that keeps on giving. * Browsing bliss for fans of pulp art. * Tim Souers takes a look -- actually, a number of looks -- at Barry Bonds. * Brown eyes, blue eyes ... What kind of difference might it make? * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the one-of-a-kind San Francisco artist known as Jess here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Italy's Dabbers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once I started this gig as a full-time Blowhard I realized that the art history class I took eons ago was a flimsy basis for writing even halfway solid articles about art. So for the last two years the majority of books I've read have been general art histories and volumes dealing with individual artists and artistic schools or movements. For example, I'd never paid much attention to the Impressionists. That's because I thought that Monet, Pissarro and others using broken color and short, distinct brushstrokes produced paintings that seemed too "unfinished." To me that was Impressionism, a painting style I didn't (and still don't) particularly care for. Now I've learned what I should have known better years ago: The Impressionists were a loose association of painters who at times exhibited with one another, yet didn't share a common style. Yes, I knew Manet was an Impressionist and didn't paint like Monet -- but the meaning of this fact didn't sink in as deeply as it should have. Nor did I really understand that Degas considered himself a traditional painter who did his work in a studio and not plein-air, as did most other Impressionists. I have come to agree with the implication by some art historians that Impressionism (and Post-Impressionism, for that matter) is a term that is something of a roadblock to understanding the history of painting in the last third of the 19th century. It would be better to try not to use the word and instead focus on painting styles. For example, Manet, Degas and the early Caillebotte (along with a number of non-Impressionists) might form one group while Monet, Pissarro and the later Caillebotte (and others) could form another. Which brings us to a near-contemporaneous group of Italian painters called I Macchiaioli. There are explanations of the term to be found various places on the web. Wikipedia, for example, says that the term Macchiaioli originated in a hostile review in the 3 November Gazzetta del Popolo, though the artists themselves used the word macchie to describe what they were dealing with -- the effect of light and shade, according to the entry. Macchie and derivations can mean "spotted" or "speckled" as well as an alternative meaning of "outlaw." So the article cited above might have had a dual negative sense of "outlaw daubers." Some sources translate Macchiaioli as "spotters," but that doesn't convey much to me. Therefore I use the term "Dabbers" as I did in the title of this post. It strikes me as having a better artistic relationship than does "spotters" because it suggests a technique that some probably used. Both English words lack the light/shade meaning, which perhaps might be invoked by "dappled" -- which has little or no meaning in art. Apparently Macchiaioli is one of those untranslatable words we are more or less stuck with. The core Macchiaioli were a group of art students and young artists in Florence in the mid-1850s dissatisfied with... posted by Donald at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments





Monday, November 12, 2007


What Ever Happened to "First Do No Harm"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- MIT sues Frank Gehry. The school says that the goofily off-kilter Stata Center -- which Gehry designed and which has been lavishly praised by the architectural establishment -- is plagued by persistent leaks, cracks, and mold problems. Gasp: Bizarro-chic new architecture that garners critical praise yet that fails in the most basic ways as pleasant and effective shelter -- now doesn't that come as a surprise? From Wikipedia's entry on deconstructivist hero Peter Eisenman: [Eisenman's 1989] Wexner Center, hotly anticipated as the first major public deconstructivist building, has required extensive and expensive retrofitting because of elementary design flaws (such as incompetent material specifications, and fine art exhibition space exposed to direct sunlight). Its spatial grammar of colliding planes also tends to make users disoriented to the point of nausea, and Eisenman has been known to chuckle in lectures about making people vomit. Talk about high maintenance! Buyer beware, of course. But it's probably a good idea for readers of the architectural press to beware too. What on earth is this crowd trying to put over on the rest of us? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments





Saturday, November 10, 2007


Giovanni Boldini: The Paris Connection
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the quirks of 19th century painting is that the greatest feather in an aspiring academic artist's hat was being awarded a Prix de Rome scholarship to study in Italy -- yet young Italian artists had to come to Paris in order to make their names known. Such was the case for Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Starting his career in Florence, he moved to Paris in 1871 after a London sojourn. By the 1890s he was one of the most fashionable portrait artists in Paris, though he is not well-known today. Boldini's specialty was flashy, sketchy portraits of women. He married journalist Emilia Cardona in 1929, when he was 87: Cardona was 30. This was the same year Alaida Banti died. Alaida was the daughter of artist Cristiano Banti, who assisted Boldini's career after the young artist moved to Florence from Ferrara. Alaida was a teenager when she met Boldini and fell in love with him. Cristiano did not approve of the relationship. My Italian is too sketchy to pursue this, but apparently Boldini and Alaida maintained some sort of relationship even after he left Italy. He proposed marriage in 1903 but this was thwarted by Cristiano, who died the following year. I have no idea why they didn't marry after the death of her father. Nor do I have any idea what this might have to do with Boldini's art. But gossip can be interesting, don't you think? Rather than go into other, more relevant details of Boldini's life, let me offer some links for you to explore. Here the Wikipedia entry in English and here is the Italian version which offers more detail and illustrations. A biographical sketch can be found here, and it contains an assessment by Time on the occasion of his death. Finally, here is another Italian link which has a number of examples of Boldini's work. Gallery Giovanni Boldini Diego Martelli in uno studio pittore - c. 1867 Martelli was an influential critic and buyer of art. The original painting is smaller than it seems, but I can't find its exact dimensions. Place Clichy - 1872 Boldini painted street scenes, landscapes and still lifes in addition to his portraiture. Giuseppi Verdi in cilindro - 1886 This is one of Boldini's best-known and most-reproduced works. James McNeill Whistler - 1897 Although Boldini specialized in portraits of women by the 1890s, he also had male sitters. Lady Colin Campbell c.1897 Hmm. Seems I've been neglecting those female ritratti. So here goes ... Nudo - 1911 Well, I suppose it's a portrait of sorts. But who cares. Mademoiselle de Gillespie - 1912 This seems a little stylized, so I wonder what she actually looked like -- a non-exhaustive Web search drew a blank. La Marchesa Luisa Casati con uno leviero - 1908 One of Boldini's flashier efforts. What did she really look like? How much is Boldini fooling/teasing us? Photo of Luisa Casati - 1912 Maybe Boldini didn't over-dramatize too much.... posted by Donald at November 10, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Wisdom from the Grumpy Old Bookman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since I'm still floundering around in a flu-ish, cold-ish fog, I'm going to let one of my betters do the speaking in this posting. Michael Allen, aka the Grumpy Old Bookman, has written a book called "The Truth About Writing" that's a weatherbeaten, beady-eyed, plain-spoken wonder. Do you want to know what the writing game and the publishing game really consist of? You can't do better than read Allen's book. I know of few books that speak as directly and truthfully about the arts-life generally, come to think of it. Some nice passages: Most professors of English literature, and most of the highbrow literary critics of this world, would have us believe that there is, metaphorically speaking, a hierarchical tower of fiction. This tower is something like a block of flats. At the top, in the exculsive pethouse, is a small amount of "literature," i.e. Great Novels. In the basement is a large heap of trash ... The truth, however, is that there is not a top-to-bottom hierarchy of fiction, with great books at the glorious summit and "trash" or "pulp" at the unspeakably vulgar bottom. If we must think of the range of available fiction in visual terms, it is best to think of a broad spectrum of books, which runs horizontally. You might care to imagine a street in whcih every buiding is a bookshop containing a particular kind of fiction ... Consider the vested interest of all those who teach the subject of English literature. They are all doing pretty nicely, thank you, preaching the 1947 party line, and they're not too keen on having any revisionists question it ... The facts are really very simple. A book eitherworks in terms of producing the intended emotion in a target reader, or it does not ... Personally I do not believe that a book can be said to be good or bad in any absolute sense -- it is only successful or unsuccessful in terms of its intended audience ... If there are no great novels, there is no hierarchy of fiction, with the good stuff at the top and the trash at the bottom. Indeed, only the briefest of considerations will demonstrate that the trash is every bit as effective in generating emotion as the so-called good stuff. Usually, in fact, a lot better ... Books which continue to be enjoyed for long periods of time tend to become known as "classics." This is a convenient shorthad term, but again, you should not be misled into assuming that it implies some absolute quality ... As for striving to achieve classic status yourself -- forget it. Your first task, when writing a novel, is to make it work for your intended audience today. Let the future take care of itself ... A work of art is .. a work which has been created through the exercise of skill, rather than by accident. The most common use of the term is in relation... posted by Michael at October 30, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments





Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Flickr Huh?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you "get" the wonderfulness of Flickr? Me, I've discovered that I lack the Flickr gene entirely. I didn't think this would prove to be the case. A few years back, I was as excited as everyone else was about Flickr. The world had never seen such a cool web-thing. Overnight it seemed that everyone embraced Flickr. Flickr was showing us a whole new way to interact with photos, even with the web itself. The mind boggled, the heart raced. I paid for a Pro account, I uploaded a lot of pix ... And I've barely used the service since. Wondering why, I come up with one thing only: I haven't discovered a single reason why I would use Flickr. I find its "Photostream" method of organizing photos confusing. I don't understand the difference between "Sets" and "Collections" -- and, hell, I don't want to understand it. Photos as Flickr displays them are rather small, and the service has been pokey-ish on all the computers I've tried it on. I tired very quickly of watching little pink and blue balls circle around each other above the word "Loading" ... What first appealed to me about Flickr was the idea of storing photos online. No more chance of losing them due to a home-hard-drive crash; easy to access them from no matter where. In practice, I've found that a combo of iPhoto on the home Mac and a weekly backup to an external hard drive suits me far better. I've also found that, when I'm away from home, one of the last things I feel a desire to do is to play with my photo collection. So much for my initial hopes and plans for the service. As far as using Flickr as a way to show off occasional handfuls of photos to friends and family goes, I've found Flickr to be a bust there too. My first preference is to email photos to family and buds. My second is to use Google's free Picassa Web Albums, which seems to me easier and faster to use than Flickr does; it also displays photos to better advantage than Flickr does. IMHO, of course. My own disappointment notwithstanding, Flickr and the impact of Flickr roar on, of course. Yahoo! bought Flickr for a rumored $15-$17 mill -- and Flickr at Yahoo! has been such a popular attraction that Yahoo! has junked their own old-timey photo service. Meanwhile, Flickr seems to be generally deferred-to as a pioneer of Web 2.0, if not Web 3.0. What is it that enchants so many about Flickr? Many people are evidently getting something out of Flickr that it doesn't even occur to me to look to Flickr for. What could that be? I have two hunches. One has to do with the idea of a website not as "a brochure with links" or as "a book with links" but as "a place to visit and play with." People don't just use Flickr... posted by Michael at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments




The Best Adventure Comic Strip Artist?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newspaper comic strips started off as humor and that's pretty much what the radically miniaturized versions of today offer. But during the 1930s, "adventure" strips came to the fore. Think Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Red Ryder, The Phantom, Smilin' Jack and Mandrake the Magician. This genre continued through the 40s and 50s, eventually fading as television and shrinking newspaper cartoon-panel sizes took their toll. Most adventure strips weren't well-drawn. In part this was because many of the cartoonists lacked extensive art school training. Perhaps more importantly, the pressure of cranking out panel after panel --- especially for a strip running both daily and Sunday -- is a punishing task. So most artists cut as many corners as they could to keep the product flowing. Successful strips, those with large syndications, generated a large enough cash flow for the cartoonist to employ assistants. Sometimes the assistants did the backgrounds or perhaps the inking over "roughs" drawn by the cartoonist himself. And there are instances where the assistant would do all the drawing, this being possible if the "author's" style could be exactly mimicked. Nevertheless, some adventure strips rose to a level that might reasonably be called "art," if indeed "commercial art" is Art and not simply "art" as a task or process. This is my favorite book about comic strips. First published in France in 1967 under the title Bande Dessinée et Figuration Narrative, it treats comic strips as art and contains an excellent selection of the best panels appearing up to that year (along with some mediocre ones to complete the coverage). If adventure strips are borderline or even actual art, then who were the artists doing that high-level work? Who was best? I don't have the digital space to be encyclopedic, so will focus on those active in the 1930s who I consider superior. The first is Noel Sickles, who for a time drew the "Scorchy Smith" aviation strip. He didn't do Scorchy for very long and quit to become a successful commercial artist. It's pretty shrunken, but below are sample panels. Noel Sickles - "Scorchy Smith" Note that Sickles was (1) skilled at drawing humans, an ability not common in the comic strip universe, and (2) employed large areas of black for reasons of design as well as for the occasional chiaroscuro effect. Due to his short stay in the field, I'll eliminate him from my "best" list. That list is comprised of Milton Caniff, Frank Godwin, Burne Hogarth, Harold Foster and Alex Raymond. Let's take a look. Gallery Milton Caniff - "Terry and the Pirates" Many observers consider Caniff the best "all-rounder" in the adventure strip field. He could plot and write well and his panels were powerfully done once he shifted from pen to brush. The only place I can fault him is that his humans tended to have a caricature-ish tinge: they aren't quite convincing. It's likely Caniff did this for dramatic effect. Frank Godwin - "Connie" --> Frank... posted by Donald at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments





Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Fascist Buildings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not writing about buildings that seem fascistic in their relationship to occupants, though Lord knows there's plenty of grist for that mill. No, this is simply a quick post showing a few buildings I encountered in Italy that were built in the days of the Mussolini regime. I'm not sure I'd even give the matter of Fascist-era architecture much of a thought except for the fact that popular travel writer Rick Steves takes the trouble to mention in his Italy guidebook that this or that building dated to Mussolini. So if Über-Liberal Steves seems a bit obsessed by Fascist-era buildings and not, say, those from the reign of King Vittorio Emanuele, then attention obviously must be paid. I haven't researched this subject, but from casual observation I found nothing particularly evil or even unusual about the Fascist-era buildings that I came across. Mussolini's agenda included making Italy a modern, efficient country, so advanced (for the times) artistic and architectural concepts were favored by the State. In practice, this meant Art Deco-inspired styles in the late 20s and nearly ornament-free buildings in the later 30s. Similar architecture can be found all over the USA in the form of government buildings funded by Franklin Roosevelt's Depression-fighting agencies. For what it's worth, here's what I photographed: Gallery Milan's Stazione Centrale The present Milan Central Station was designed years before Mussolini took power, but not dedicated until 1931. According to this report, modifications were made to the design during the long construction process. Although Steves notes an association with Mussolini, that's not really apparent from the architecture. The station is undergoing renovation and was a mess when we were there which made it hard to evaluate. Florence's Stazione Centrale Santa Maria Novella Opened in 1935, Florence's central station is clearly Modernist in spirit. (For a Wikipedia link, click here, though I must caution you that it's in Italian.) Perhaps the architecture seemed shockingly modern when the station opened; certainly it wasn't in the spirit of the rest of central Florence. But the station is on the edge of central Florence, which lessens the visual damage. From a 2007 perspective, the building strikes me as nondescript. Government building, Rome I think I snapped this while strolling a ways northwest of the Vittorio Emanuele monument, but didn't write down details. Anyhow, it's Fascist-era. Mediterraneo Hotel, Rome This is where our tour group stayed. Very convenient for travelers arriving on the train from Fiumicino Airport: it's only a block from the plaza in front of Rome's Stazione Centrale. According to its web site, the hotel was opened in 1938. So far as I know, it was a private project, yet it is in the spirit of government buildings of the time. Later, Donald... posted by Michael at October 16, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments




Kalb on Alexander
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jim Kalb is having an appreciative wrestle with volume one of Christopher Alexander's "The Nature of Order": here, here, here, here, here. Since Alexander is, for my money, one of the really important thinkers of our time -- hint: It ain't just about architecture -- and since I find Jim to be one of the most substantial and thoughtful of bloggers, I'm one happy reader. Jim's verdict on the book: "I can't think of another book on any topic published since the Second World War that strikes me as equally valuable." I'll second him on that. The Alexander-Kalb matchup is one made in 2Blowhards heaven for another reason too. Early on we did a long interview with Nikos Salingaros, a mathematician, architect, and architectural theorist who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander. You can get to all five parts of the interview via this posting. Nikos' own very generous website is here. We also ran a three-part interview with Jim Kalb, in which Jim explains the nature of real conservatism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Please do treat yourself to both of these interviews. They're real brain-openers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 16, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments





Monday, October 15, 2007


Modern Art, Italian Style
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rome has the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in the Villa Borghese park area and Florence the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in the Palazzo Pitti museum aggregation. The former deals with art from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century while the latter's time frame is 1784 to 1924 or thereabouts. Italians seem to view art with a longer perspective than do Americans or even northern Europeans: something to do with Etruscans, Greeks and Romans, perhaps. To them, "modern" is something that happened after the Renaissance as well as the Baroque and Rococo periods. Recent art? That would be called "contemporary" -- for what it's worth, Rome does have its Museo di Arte Contemporanea. I visited the "modern" museums and found them worthwhile. As many Faithful Readers know, I'm especially interested in non-Academic, non-Modernist art from the second half of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th. This is because I think that Modernism (and its PoMo guises) was a probably necessary experiment that largely failed aesthetically, even though it has remained commercially successful. Non-Modernist art might offer clues as to the direction art might take once Modernism shrinks to proper place in the art pantheon of movements and styles. The web site for the Rome Moderna is here and that for Florence's is here. The Florence gallery features the Macchiaioli movement, and I'll deal with them in a later post. For now, I'll discuss the Rome Moderna. The building is divided into four main gallery blocs along with connecting spaces. The bloc containing works from the first half of the 19th century was closed the day we visited, so we had to begin with art from 1850 or a little later. Yes, I'm letting my biases show, but I found the paintings from 1860 to 1910 fascinating. Here was gallery after gallery, most with several eye-catching paintings by artists I'd never heard of in college art history courses or seen mentioned in art history books. I've taken some heat from readers regarding my "peripheral artists" pun when I wrote about Finnish, Russian and Polish artists from the same era, but here were artists not peripheral geographically who have been consigned to art-historical oblivion. Why? Most likely because they fit neither the Paris-centric 19th century art history narrative nor the teleological Modernist narrative of mid-late 20th century writers. If you feel like mousing around on your own, the link above offers a secondary link to pictures of paintings and sculptures in the collection. Or you can click here for a Google-based set. Otherwise, below are a few painting I found interesting. Gallery Domenico Morelli - Ritratto di donna in rosso - circa 1855 "Portrait of Woman in Red" interests me because it has an Impressionist feel even though it predates the movement by about a decade. Domenico Morelli - Le tentazioni di Sant'Antonio - 1878 Another Morelli --"The Temptation of Saint Anthony" -- is earthy and dramatic. Like certain examples of... posted by Donald at October 15, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Friday, October 12, 2007


Separating Art and Artist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can a work of art be evaluated without reference to the personal qualities of the artist who created it? Should a work of art be evaluated without reference to the personal qualities of the artist who created it? I'm only a casual reader of art criticism, but it strikes me that these are perennial questions that seem to pop up whenever an artist is "controversial." The idealistic response, if I understand the issue correctly, is that a work of art both can and should be evaluated independently of the artist. And as surely as the New York City sun rises over the East River and sets over the Hudson, this ideal is honored in the breach. I don't keep statistics on this, so I'm just guessing when I say that qualities of the artist tend to enter the scene when the critic does not like those qualities. This approach can be difficult for the critic if the artist has produced works that, by consensus, are considered great or even significant. That is, the critic might agonize, as Michael did (very mildly) here over film-maker and Hitler groupie Leni Riefenstahl. Poet Ezra Pound was another problematical case from the age of Fascism as was, to a much lesser degree, Herbert von Karajan. And it's my impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that current academic critics are quick to veer from the art to dwell on the hated racist/patriarchal/capitalist/whatever social milieu that spawned the item being evaluated. It's less common, but occasionally artist qualities the critic approves of or finds worthy can enter into the evaluation. To me, the prime example is Frida Kahlo whose wretched/tragic life seems to outshine her art. Let's see ... she was female, crippled, married to famous artist Diego Rivera, died young, and was a Communist or fellow traveler. At any rate, when I see references to her, it's the biography that's stressed, not so much her paintings. Perhaps that's because, down deep, the critics realize that her art was banal and repetitive -- not top-grade stuff. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 12, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Thursday, October 4, 2007


Too Much Glass
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Design experts often rhapsodize about the glories of huge, unbroken expanses of glass -- yet in common experience, large stretches of glass often prove cold, barren, and blinding. Katie Hutchison praises the virtues and pleasures of windows that are divided up into panes. (I wrote a little something here about the way many architects over-value glass.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Art Find for the Day: Erwin Haya
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fast posting to note that in my websurfing-time today I've been enjoying Erwin Haya's quick-witted and high-spirited comix art. It's giddy, cheerful, and likably unpretentious. Erwin -- who bills himself as "OneSickIndividual" -- creates what seems to me like pin-up art for the skateboarding, "Ren & Stimpy" set. That's high praise in my book. I sent a link to Erwin's site along to Friedrich von Blowhard, who responded with the following fun set of musings: I love the title: My Artistic Commode! This guy is a gem. I wonder if "cartoony-ness" is a personality trait. In other words, cartoon artists basically develop a standard figural model, which they can then play with in different poses, with different clothes, etc. It makes what they do kind of analogous to a writer who has mastered an alphabet, and then uses it to tell a story. It also implies a certain solipsistic tendency, insofar as the cartoonist/writer isn't that concerned with what's going on outside themselves. It is, however, very different from, say, the paradigm of an Impressionist painter, who is trying to describe a given external reality.Not that one is better than the other, just pointing out how they're different. Hmmmm. You can buy prints, posters, books, and t-shirts by Erwin here. Semi-related: Donald wrote about traditional pin-up art here. Friedrich von Blowhard wrote about pin-up-paintin' titan Gil Elvgren here. Friedrich and I swapped notes about Edward Leeteg, the legendary father of painting-on-black-velvet, here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Poetry, Fiction, Length, More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This piece by the NYTimes' Corey Kilgannon about Frank Messina, a Mets fan who writes poems about his team and about his feelings about them, is a sweetheart: amusing and touching -- "appreciative" in the best sense of the word. It also triggered off an email back-and-forth between FvBlowhard and me that, for better or worse, I'm copying-and-pasting into this blog posting. Hey, 2Blowhards started as an extension of the email exchanges FvBlowhard and I were already having. Every now and then we have to reconnect with our gabby-arts-buddies roots. FvBlowhard: The problem with modern poetry is that guys like the guy in this story are treated as laughable. He, not the poetry establishment, is the one in touch with the spirit of Homer. He may not be all that good as poet, granted, but that's really beside the point; he is marginalized not for how he does poetry but for the purpose he is putting it to. MBlowhard: That's a great article, tks. Nice catch by the reporter. And gotta love people who really do what they do for the love of it. My own current rant has to do with length. The Wife is back to working on another novel. She's really determined to be a pro and to make money doing it, and good for her. Me, I had a mini-crisis the other day. I have a short novel all sketched out, a good first draft of it down on paper, etc. And I was having hard time facing the next stage -- moving from "rehearsals are going well" to "let's get this baby up on its feet." The Wife looked at me, read my mood, and said, "Novel-writing's a job. You've got a fulltime job already. Why not let yourself do manageable projects instead, at least until you retire?" She was right. I set the novel aside and the gloom lifted. Anyway, my thesis about length and scale boils down to a few points. 1) Novels are the limit of what humans can do. 2) Doing anything on that scale isn't going to be fun-fun. Some exceptions allowed for, few novels have been written on a pure breeze of inspiration. Most have, to some extent, been ground out. 3) Most stories don't need to be more than 5-50 pages long. All of which means that most people who write novels are weirdos (because who else would inflict such a lot of loneliness and delayed-gratification on themselves?), and that most novels have a lot of padding in them. Exceptions (the work of professional writer-entertainers especially) allowed for, of course. Given all this, why on earth do readers expect or even want novels? And why on Earth would anyone -- or anyone from a normal range of emotion, drive, ability -- want to write them? I mean, really, compare a novel to a movie. A movie gives you a complete story, the energies and personalities of tons of people who are pitching... posted by Michael at October 2, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments





Sunday, September 30, 2007


Balint Zsako
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Art find for the day: Balint Zsako, who was born in Hungary and now lives in Toronto. Balint often works in ink and watercolor, and he seems to enjoy walking the line between fine art and illustration. His paintings and drawings are musing, dreamlike, poetic, and mucho preoccupied with branches and roots, fluids and orifices, and machinery. In their whimsicality and power, they're like a cross between Saul Steinberg and "Eraserhead." Here's Balint's very rewarding website; here's a very rewarding q&a with him. Great exchange: Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be? A. They generally have a good sense of humour with an appreciation of both the refined and the obscene. Don't overlook Balint's mindbending, brainstormy journals, which can be found on his website under "Gallery." I discovered Balint thanks to Drawn! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Saturday, September 29, 2007


Some Katie Opinions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Katie Hutchison celebrates a picket fence, but thinks that the aluminum siding has got to go. She also visits the house that Modernist hero-titan Walter Gropius designed for his own family, and gets a case of the giggles. The Wife and I reacted similarly when we toured Frank Lloyd Wright's legendary Fallingwater. I wrote about our visit here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 29, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, September 17, 2007


The Problem of Simplicity
Donald Pitenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "%$^**@&%#," I say. That's because my draft of this article in the blog queue disappeared into the Big Black Hole of Lost Blog Posts. So what follows is a stripped-down, less fancily phrased and structured version of what I had written a week or so ago. As I said, "%$^**@&%#." Part of Modernism's rejection of the 19 century was the introduction of a dogma of Simplicity. This did not affect painting to any great degree; a Pollock drip-painting can hardly be called simple. But Simplicity did take hold to a considerable degree for sculpture and triumphed in the fields of Architecture and Industrial Design where ornament was abolished in the former and reduced to "speed strips" in the latter by 1940. The Postmodern era has been slightly more tolerant of ornament. Geometry-based patterns are allowed on occasion as are repeated structural details that can give an ornamented appearance of sorts. Nevertheless, a small set of simplified shapes is expected to comprise the essence of the building or object. I have nothing against simplicity. Industrial-Designed objects, if they have smooth, simple surfaces can be much easier to keep clean than objects with lots of tiny places where dust and dirt can collect. And simple objects can be seem jewel-like if placed in contrasting settings -- for example, the newly-built Lever House building on what was then pre-Modern Park Avenue in New York. Even so, Simplicity -- if it is pervasive -- runs counter to what seems to be deep-seated, perhaps evolutionary, human visual preferences for nature-based forms. Such forms are definitely non-geometrical and tend to the complex as opposed to the simple. (Though contrasts such as rolling fields with copses of trees and background wooded areas might skew towards the simple, yet can be pleasing to view.) Furthermore, non-simple familiar objects probably hold viewer interest longer than greatly simplified or geometrical forms. I'm thinking of human faces and bodies as well as landscape scenes. But even complicated man-built landscapes can qualify. I can imagine myself studying a panorama of Paris for just as long as I might the Grand Canyon. To illustrate what the title of this post -- The Problem of Simplicity -- is about, consider two sculptures: Gallery Bird on Space - Constantin Brancusi - 1923 et. seq. This a one of my favorite sculptures. Despite its subtle forms I can pretty well assimilate visually it in two or three minutes. Monolith - Gustav Vigeland - completed 1943 I've never been to Oslo where a park has been set aside for Vigeland's works. But, because of the large amount of human subject-matter, I imagine that Monolith would hold my interest considerably longer than Bird in Space. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 17, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments





Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Dealing With Collegiate Gothic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Collegiate Gothic was the epitome of architectural fashion for American colleges and universities during the whereabouts of the first third of the 20th century. I'm very fond of that style and enjoy seeing it when I visit Yale, Cornell, Princeton and other universities with significant concentrations. But what do architects steeped in Modernist and Po-Mo dogma do when new buildings are added to a Collegiate Gothic core? There are three basic strategies for this situation: (1) ignore the past and build what you want; (2) grit your teeth and continue with Collegiate Gothic; and (3) create buildings that blend with Collegiate Gothic to varying degrees. The third strategy is the most interesting one because it shows what architects design when their hearts aren't completely in the game -- how much do they compromise and how do they go about compromising. The University of Washington is an interesting test case because, since a campus plan using Collegiate Gothic first emerged in 1915, architects have had to acknowledge the style. The remainder of this post is a gallery of photos I took recently along with captions in which I explain and interpret. I'm sorry that this post is a little lengthy, but the subject can't be dealt with using only four or five illustrations. Gallery This is the main quadrangle. Here and in many other parts of the campus vegetation is thick -- too thick, in my opinion. Major trimming is needed so that buildings are visible and free from potential damage to brickwork in the damp Seattle climate. The Japanese cherry trees in the photo have been in place for around 45 years and render the Collegiate Gothic classroom buildings nearly invisible when leaves are out. The "Quad" sets the style for the main part of campus. Bricks are a reddish-orange color and trim is a pinkish cream. My other alma mater, Dear Old Penn, standardized on Burgundy-colored brickwork to unify the campus. Here's a better view of a building done in Collegiate Gothic style. This represents the take-off point for architects working in the 1950s and later. The Mechanical Engineering building was built in the 50s in a nondescript style that nods to Collegiate Gothic only in its standard UW brickwork. At the center-left is an engineering school building completed around 1960. There apparently was a little pressure to compromise with Collegiate Gothic -- hence the fussy, abstracted-Gothic motif. The main campus plaza. A parking garage is below ground level and the towers are ventilators. The area was built during the early 70s when Brutalism was the architectural fad. No Gothic touches, but the brickwork is UW standard. Meany Hall performance center, sited on the plaza shown above, but completed in 1995. Note the odd little triangular windows along the roof line: the architect's reluctant tribute to Collegiate Gothic.. The engineering library and a classroom building dating to the 70s. Again the expected brick and no Gothic. On the left is the Business School... posted by Donald at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments





Thursday, September 6, 2007


Pygmy Painters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the lamented pre-20th century world of Western art, there strode giants whose names were, and are, known to much of the public at large. Rembrandt. Da Vinci. Michelangelo. El Greco. Van Dyck. Vermeer. Goya. Monet. Van Gogh. As for the 20th century fame? Picasso, for certain. Ditto Dalí. Klimt, increasingly. Pollock, probably. Calder, perhaps. Warhol, maybe. Norman Rockwell, in the USA at least. Today? If you or I were to hit the street asking passersby to name a famous living painter, what responses would we get? I seriously doubt that many average people could name any currently active painter. And if they could, there's a good chance they would name Thomas Kinkade. Don't laugh and get smug thoughts about the lumpenproletariat. Those same proles might well recognize several of the names in the listings above if the living restriction were lifted. I believe it is a fact that there are no living painters (aside, perhaps, from Kinkade -- thanks to his gallery presence) whose names are widely recognized. This is because the art world has become highly fragmented. And it has become so fragmented because of the multitude of Mini-Isms left in the wake of the original Modernist thrust and its culmination in Abstract Expressionism. The past several decades have seen painters -- assisted by galleries, publicists and the art press -- desperately trying to be "creative" and thereby famed for creating a "movement" or art "ism." Sadly for the participants, the result has been the increasing generation of random noise, not clarity. Is there escape from this situation? Yes, there are possibilities. But many in the current art scene would not be happy with them. More on this another time ... Later, Donald PS: A reminder that I'm discussing fame and not artistic excellence, though the two traits tended to greatly overlap before the 20th century.... posted by Donald at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments




Architecture and Happiness: More Brick
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I wrote a posting about a small brick path that gave me some intense architecture-appreciation pleasure. A few of the many possible lessons I'd be happy to draw from this: The space between objects is just as important as the objects themselves; we endow objects -- central focus points -- with far too much importance; there's a lot of value to be found in modest, overlooked nooks and crannies; scale and ambition aren't everything ... In any case, ever since writing that posting my mind and my eyes have been dwelling on the topic of bricks and happiness. My snapshot finger soon caught on and followed along. Let me start -- for the sake of comparing-and-constrasting as well as for the fun of being cranky -- with some brickiness that I most emphatically don't like. A great big upside-down smiley -- a frownie? -- to this impersonal, glossy, bleak wall, for instance: It's no life-enriching experience to pass by that particular wall, that's for sure. It has about as much sensual-intellectual appeal as a cafeteria's floor. As for my usual reflex to blame everything on modernism ... Well, here's an example of brickwork from circa 1960, the height of the NYC version of High Modernism, when architects, designers, developers, and planners were peddling hygiene, clean lines, flat surfaces, right angles, and light, light, ever more light: Yes, yellow bricks -- and wasn't that a great innovation? Verdict: All the personality of a drawing made in MacPaint circa 1984, minus the sometimes likable goofiness. While we think of bricks as heavy objects full of personality laid in courses by handworkers called bricklayers, the fact is that these days most bricks for large projects are mass-produced to a striking degree of uniformity, are assembled into walls off-site, and are then applied to the outsides of buildings in huge blocks. It's a process rather like gluing a sheet of postage stamps onto the side of a cardboard box. And you can tell that's the case, can't you? These bricks are neutral. They don't seem thick or weighty; they certainly don't beg to be touched. They don't say "solid matter," let alone "made by the hand of man." They say something like "a designer thought this would be an appropriate surface treatment." What's with the red mortar anyway? Who thought that was a good idea? And why hasn't he been drummed out of the design field yet? Now, feast your eyes on some old-style beauties. Warmth, heft, irregularity crossed with regularity ... They're like a display in a bakery store. Let's zoom in. Would it be unfair to compare the modern brickwork far above to Wonder Bread and the trad brickwork to a high-quality baguette? To shift comparisons ... For me, experiencing this wall is like looking at a painting by someone like Bonnard -- it's all personality and touch -- while looking at the modern walls above is like leafing through a rather dull trade... posted by Michael at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments





Monday, September 3, 2007


Singular Multiplicity
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the dawning 20th century, Western painting's parting from traditional ways accelerated. Ideas filled the garrets, studios and coffee houses of Continental Europe, especially in Paris. As 1910 approached, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque invented the Analytical form of Cubism. Sabine Rewald of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art writes here that The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead to emphasize the two-dimensionality of the canvas. So they reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relieflike space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points. In Cubist work up to 1910, the subject of a picture was usually discernible. Although figures and objects were dissected or "analyzed" into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects. During "high" Analytic Cubism (1910-12), also called "hermetic," Picasso and Braque so abstracted their works that they were reduced to just a series of overlapping planes and facets mostly in near-monochromatic browns, grays, or blacks. Here is one of Picasso's best-known portraits from his Analytical phase. Portrait of Amboise Vollard - Picasso - 1910 Picasso's Vollard was the 30 November 2002 Guardian "Portrait of the Week." The article by Jonathan Jones is here. Jones contends There is not a single aspect of his face that is "there" in any conventional pictorial sense. The more you look for a picture, the more insidiously Picasso demonstrates that life is not made of pictures but of unstable relationships between artist and model, viewer and painting, self and world. And yet this is a portrait of an individual whose presence fills the painting. Vollard is more real than his surroundings, which have disintegrated into a black and grey crystalline shroud. Donald Pittenger of 2Blowhards contends that the Guardian's Jonathan Jones' assertions are nonsense. I say that Picasso's Vollard is, at best, an interesting attempt at decorative art. The physical Vollard is barely discernible, the psychological or emotional Vollard even less so. If one strips away the Modernist false god of "honoring the picture plane" and the decorative aspects of Analytical Cubism, one soon comes to the matter of multiple perspectives of the painting's subject. Question: Is breaking the subject into bits seen from different viewpoints and reassembling those bits into a single object the best way of showing multiple aspects of the subject? I think not. This feature of Analytical Cubism results in visual confusion and a serious decrease in viewer understanding of what is being portrayed. If the goal is to show a subject in multiple guises or viewpoints, there are better solutions. And such solutions pre-dated Picasso and Braque. Consider the following pictures. The first apparently was a study to assist a sculptor and the second represents a long tradition of engineering and fabrication drawing.... posted by Donald at September 3, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Monday, August 27, 2007


Craftsman A'Buildin'
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know what's the hot style in domestic architecture in your neck of the woods. But in mine, it just might be Craftsman or Bungalow or whatever one calls the style of modest houses that was popular around 1900-1920. Above is a Craftsman style bungalow in El Segundo, California, built in 1912. There are lots of similar houses here in the Seattle area. The ones I was familiar with when I was growing up were small, such as the one pictured and not to be confused with those large, wonderful creations by architects such as Green & Green. I first noticed a revival of Craftsman style houses in Du Pont, Washington back in the 1980s or early 90s. Du Pont, as the name suggests, was a town created by the company early in the 20th century near one of its dynamite plants. The town was comprised of less than a dozen blocks and the houses were in the prevailing Craftsman mode. When the new development was started by a Weyerhaeuser subsidiary, the decision was made to build houses using Craftsman design elements. In this way, the character of the old town was preserved, but on a comparatively massive scale. A photo of a house in the new Du Pont is below. Now Craftsman style is going upscale. Sunday, Nancy and I drove to Seattle exurbs north of the city of Monroe and found two developments featuring Craftsman style houses. Prices were in the neighborhood of $600,000 for around 3,000 square feet of house with yards ranging from about a quarter acre to nearly half an acre. These developments are the better part of an hour's drive from Seattle on a good traffic day and even farther from the airport, so buyers face a definite trade-off of convenience for better prices and more elbow room. Above is a photo I snapped of a nearly-completed house in one of the developments. The house I inspected was Craftsman on the exterior only, the interior being nondescriptly conventional rather than featuring the rich wood and carpentry of traditional and revival Craftsman / Bungalow style. Nevertheless, these houses serve as yet another indication that Modernism and successor styles are not what people usually choose when they spend a lot of their own money. (Though seriously rich Seattle-ites are more inclined to opt for Modernist syles, as I reported here.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 27, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments





Thursday, August 23, 2007


Skill and the Arts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do opera-lovers dress up, fight traffic and pay seriously high ticket prices to hear singers of the calibre found in the average locker room shower stall? Of course not. Would fans of Olympic figure skating competitions tolerate a performer doing nothing but circle the rink like teenagers at the Rockefeller Center ice rink? Never. What about art museum-goers -- do you think they would plunk down the better part of 20 bucks and jostle the crowd to gaze at the works of somebody who can't convincingly paint a human face? Uh. Um. Well, it seems that they actually do. So the question before the 2Blowhards readership today is Why is lack of skill tolerated in the graphic arts, but seldom elsewhere in the arts realm? Okay, okay. There are exceptions. The main example that comes to my mind is that, for decades, pop music singers have been allowed by their audiences to possess average (or worse!) singing voices. That's provided said voice was distinctive or that it conveyed emotional overtones listeners found enjoyable. Nevertheless, in general, rare skill tends to be rewarded in the arts: think instrumental soloists, ballet dancers, actors, and so forth. People are seldom willing to go out of their way to witness things that they themselves can do or surpass. Maybe that's why I tend to be impressed by representational painters who have superb technical skills. But I'll admit that technical skill isn't everything when it comes to graphic arts. An outstanding artist will deliver more than a technically excellent, yet lifeless, image. A great artist needs to "set his stage" compellingly and create an emotional aura to his painting if it is to be recognized as great. Wait!! you say: back up a bit. That opera singer can be seen as being just a puppet of the composer and director -- those are the folks who do the heavy creative lifting. And semi-ditto for a Heifetz or a Yo-Yo Ma and their ilk: although they have some interpretive elbow-room, they remain subservient to composer's creativity. The ballet dancer is a tool of the composer and choreographer. The creator of the work is king, in other words. I don't think so. For example, the composer's work exists only in his mind and on paper until it is performed. And if the performance sounds lousy, it doesn't matter how great the composition is. So composed music is really an unavoidable partnership between performer(s) and whoever writes the music and (if singing is involved) words. A sculptor might have to rely on technicians to help realize the final object. But painters are responsible for the whole shot; besides coming up with the concept, they necessarily do the execution. (Yes, in the classical studio system, the master had students and assistants. But that's seldom the case today, and it doesn't affect the discussion.) Some will argue that innovation in art is important -- perhaps the most important thing. I disagree. If a great... posted by Donald at August 23, 2007 | perma-link | (50) comments





Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Pin-Up Masters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to see them on the walls of dirty, cluttered service station or car repair shop offices. I even saw some at the San Francisco branch of the appraisal company my dad worked for. Now they're gone. A victim of Political Correctness. Pin-Ups is the subject. No, make that pin-up artists, because it's the artist who gives the pin-up its character. There were only a few major calendar companies offering a pin-up line. They generally featured artists who were skilled in the genre and whose work sold well -- the pin-up buying public was not lacking in taste, apparently. Other, sometimes cruder, pin-up art could be found in magazines and on their covers: the publication Movies Humor is an example. 2Blowards has not ignored the pin-up. Friedrich von Blowhard has proved to be a devoted student of famed pin-up artist Gil Elvgren, as can be seen here, here and here. There are books about Elvgren; I'm most familiar with one that attempts to present all known examples ofl his pin-up art as well as examples of his regular commercial work. The original Taschen edition is here and the more recent Barnes & Noble reprint is here. Perhaps the most famous of all 20th century pin-up artists were George Petty and Alberto Vargas, both of whom gained their renown because they were featured in Esquire magazine for many years, whereas Elvgren's work was mostly seen on calendars. If you are interested in artists of the golden age of pin-ups, I suggest the book The Great American Pin-Up, which presents examples of work by dozens of artists who spent at least part of their career in that trade. I used that book as reference for this article, trying to identify artists whose work I thought was especially good. Unfortunately, most of the really good pictures in the book don't seem to be on the Internet, so the examples below are a shadow of the glory and tackiness of the pin-up world. The examples I selected are definitely on the prim side because that suits my public temperament. Besides, my intent is to show the artistic style of the artists, not the content. You can find plenty of content in the books cited in this post. Gallery By George Petty This World War 2 vintage illustration was subject of the wrath of the Post Office. By Alberto Vargas Also from the time of World War 2. Petty and Vargas used simlar techniques for their pin-up work because their work was both in vogue and in Esquire (yes, that small "v" is intentional). The archetype of this style is a illustration of an ultra-leggy girl with a white telephone tucked next to her head. By Gil Elvgren Elvgren cranked out lots of pin-up art. His challenge was to remain within the audience expectations of the genre while providing variety. Even a 12-illustration calendar could be challenging when coming up with subject-matter. And viewers would be familiar with... posted by Donald at August 15, 2007 | perma-link | (83) comments





Monday, August 13, 2007


Me and the Snobs and the Little Guy
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in this posting, I took a gratuitous swing at the European concert-hall tradition. Challenged by Jult52 about whether that was necessary -- and of course he's right, it wasn't -- I responded with some thoughts that Donald has urged me to turn into a free-standing posting. So without further ado, although with a little additional dolling-up ... Well, "Suck on this" wasn't exactly meant to be taken as a considered (let alone defensible) critical position ... But, what the heck, to indulge in a little earnestness for a sec: I love the Euro high-art traditions. What I don't like (and what I think screws up a lot of American arts discussions and arts education) is seeing American art through a Euro-derived, high-art fixated lens. Sometimes it's helpful, but much of the time it blinds people to the riches we have, or makes them much too modest about them. A lot of our best art (it seems to me) is folk, popular, self-created, entertainment-driven, commercial, eccentric, and/or hard-to-categorize. Much of it wasn't even intended to be taken as art. Meanwhile, our high-art style work, while sometimes amazing, is often either thin on the ground (hard to make a living at it here) or embattled, stressed, and self-righteous in a way that can weaken its quality. As a result we have a culture that's very different from a Euro-ish one in many important ways -- it's scrappy, decentered, unofficial, making-itself-up-as -it-goes-along, and often coming at ya out of seemingly nowhere ... Work that wasn't intended as art -- movies, jazz -- becomes a hugely important part of world culture, while much of our self-consciously arty art goes nowhere at all. So why do many critics, profs, and even civilians insist on applying inappropriate -- or at least what I consider inappropriate -- standards to what we do have? (I think I have a hunch why, btw ... ) Like I say, this kind of attitude can blind us to much of what we have and can make us too modest about how rich our culture is. It can also kill pleasure, and by god I love pleasure. High-art-obsessed types tend to see things awfully hierarchically. One work is automatically more valuable than another simply because of the kind of work it is. A literary novel is automatically more valuable than a collection Dave Barry columns, for instance. Seriously: It isn't uncommon to run into someone in the books world looking at something like a Dave Barry collection and sniffing, "Oh, that isn't a real book" as though he's just seen a dog turd on a sidewalk. Yet Dave Barry has been around for decades, and so far his writing seems to be holding up better than 90% of the lit novels -- the so-called "real books" -- from the same stretch. Similar kinds of people in the visual-arts field view a gallery-style sculpture or piece of installation art as automatically more worthy of "serious" consideration... posted by Michael at August 13, 2007 | perma-link | (54) comments





Monday, August 6, 2007


James Bama: Better Than Photography
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One can argue -- and many have, over the last 150+ years -- that photography has eliminated the need for representational painting. In return, others have contended that skilled representational artists can offer images that photography cannot. Both viewpoints are right, of course. Supporting the first contention, there is little question that photography pretty well eliminated the need for artists to make "record" type images -- pictures of cityscapes of the Canaletto variety, for example. And the collapse of representational illustration in the 1960s is well known to people such as myself who were in, aspired to be in, or are interested in that branch of commercial art. Supporting the second contention is former illustrator and present Western painter James Bama. Wikipedia has a fairly lengthy biography here. Another non-cursory article that's worth reading can be found here. And if you want to see lots and lots of Bama's work, there's a 2006 book about him that's probably still in print. The publisher's Web site deals with it here and the Amazon link is here. In a nutshell, Bama was born in 1926 and raised in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Much of his early commercial work was done while associated with the Charles E. Cooper Studio, home to well-known illustrators such as Jon Whitcomb, Coby Whitmore and Al Parker from the mid 30s into the 1960s. For many years, in addition to magazine illustration, Bama was a top paperback book cover artist. Unfortunately, I can't locate some of the best examples of Bama's illustration work on the Web. As I just mentioned, the recent book is the best source. But you might try the following link to a back issue of Illustration magazine that had two articles about Bama. It contains thumbnail images of pages that might be of a little help. Scroll down: the Bama stuff is in the top 40 percent or so of the Web page. By the mid 1960s Bama had married and felt the need to switch from illustration to painting. Western painting, to be precise. So off the Bamas went, moving to the Cody, Wyoming area -- quite a change from New York. Since then, Bama phased out his illustration work and makes his living selling original paintings and Giclée images of those paintings. Bama has relied heavily on photographs for much of his career. But, like Alphonse Mucha, for instance, most of his paintings are not slavish copies of the photos. Most of Bama's illustrations and Western paintings seem to have been done on gesso-coated panels rather than canvas or even linen. The hard, smooth surfaces allow a painter to paint in great detail, should he so choose. In Bama's case, favorite details include cloth and skin textures including wrinkles -- all done with slightly impressionistic fidelity. The examples shown below offer no real clue as to how his art has evolved over time. Let me suggest that Bama "peaked" about the time he was... posted by Donald at August 6, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments





Thursday, August 2, 2007


A Less-Known Herter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the last of three reports on some American painters who were active during what the Smithsonian's American Art Museum calls "The Gilded Age" -- the name of an exhibition created by the museum in 2000. This is the book associated with the exhibition. I wrote about Thomas Wilmer Dewing here and Abbott Handerson Thayer here. This post concerns Albert Herter (1871-1950). The museum didn't have much in the way of Herter's work. But tucked into the room featuring Dewing, I spotted this: Woman with Red Hair - 1894 No political theme here, no psychological tension either. Just an aesthetically satisfying portrait -- nuthin' wrong with that, sez I. (I saw a slightly similar painting at the Seattle Art Museum not long ago. It might have been this one from Altanta's High Museum.) Herter's father was a principal in the Herter Brothers furniture-making / interior decoration concern that served the rich in the late 19th century. So young Albert got launched in a social climate that allowed easy entry in to portaiture for a talented artist. Biographical information on the Web is thin, so I'll pass along what little I know and hope it will be helpful. Herter had training at the Art Students League and, later, in Paris -- but I don't know under whom. He taught for a while at the Chicago Art Institute but most of his adult life was spent in New York and California. He had a Long Island estate and a home in the Santa Barbara area. Besides portraits, he did mural work on both coasts. My take is that Herter was a good technician. I haven't seen many examples of his work, but my provisional opinion is that his work isn't as distinctive or interesting as the paintings by Dewing and Thayer. Here are more examples: Portrait of Nabeia Gilbert Landing of Cabrillo at Catalina - Los Angeles Public Library mural Another mural is in the board room of the National Academy of Sciences; click here and scroll down to see the GIF image. One more thing. Does the name Herter ring a bell? Probably not, if you're under 60. But it seems that Albert's son Christian went into politics. He was a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts and, under Dwight Eisenhower, served as Secretary of State. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 2, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Rocky Architecture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For much of my life a certain architectural detail has disturbed me. But I couldn't figure out why it did so. A month or two ago I finally found the answer. Let's take a look at some examples of what I'm talking about. The following photos were taken last week while visiting the Oregon Coast. It's those stones on the column pedestal in the first photo and, especially, the round ones on the chimney and planter areas of the building in the lower picture. Why was I disturbed? Because round stones cannot be piled narrowly as in pedestals and chimneys: it is unnatural. Such stones are found on flat areas such as stream beds. Other kinds of stone such as slate or shale are flat and can be stacked. You can see stone walls or fences in parts of New England and Upstate New York. Houses in the Northeast and elsewhere that incorporate flat stonework don't trouble me: I usually like what I see. That's because such stones are used in a natural -- not artificial -- way. Obviously quite a few people like rounds stones on their houses, otherwise I wouldn't be seeing such detailing. But still ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 1, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments





Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Architecture and Happiness: Bricks and Shadows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the negativity and mockery. The Communicatrix, Chelsea Girl, and Raymond Pert have shown me the way: Blog about something positive from time to time, damn it. Good for the mental health, and probably a ray of sunshine for visitors too. (Listen to an interview with Chelsea Girl by Susie Bright here.) Besides, it takes more guts to open up about what moves you than it does to scorn things. For my first act of blogging-positivity, I'm kicking off a series of postings on architecture and happiness. To set this particular posting up, let me begin with -- OK, sure, admittedly -- some negativity, a few examples of the kind of thing I dislike. In the following photo, the shiney blue-green mass on the left is the Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed Avenue of the Americas Plaza, in New York's West 50s. What aesthetic qualities is this building selling? Let me suggest a few answers: Blue-green silveriness, reflectiveness, grid-iness, the shock of one large funny angle ... In other words: expert play with chic geometry. Are you surprised to learn that Edward Larrabee Barnes was once a student of Walter Gropius, one of the Very Bad Guys in Tom Wolfe's essential "From Bauhaus to Our House"? How about this next building? This is the backside of the Musem of Modern Art, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. What's it selling? Hmm, let's see. Right angles. Grid-iness. An unexpected big square hole. And a marked contrast in textures, between the matte of the black, the frostiness of one set of glass panes, and the reflectiveness of the other, larger set of glass panes. Expert play with chic geometry, in other words. Funnily enough, Taniguchi once worked for Walter Gropius. Since my digicam-finger was twitchy last week, let me present another example: This is one of New York City's new bus stops, designed by Duncan Jackson of Grimshaw Architects. (Architecture and urbanism buffs refer to such things as street lamps, bus stops, kiosks, etc., as "street furniture.") Let's see: Glassiness, steeliness, angles ... In other words: Yet more expert play with chic geometry. I'm sorry to report that I can't turn up any direct connection between Duncan Jackson and Walter Gropius. Still: Are you surprised to learn that the architecture and design establishment loves these new bus stops? All the structures in the pix above are about lines, planes, glint, surfaces, volumes, and angles. The language of traditional architecture -- which might include columns, pediments, vases, temples, shadows, arches, and stone ribbons -- is nowhere to be found. No porches, no arcades ... Sigh: I do love porches and arcades. For me, looking at the structures above is a little like leafing through stylish algebra and geometry textbooks -- dry, abstract, and mathematical, however chic. What's with that? To what are a civilian's emotions supposed to attach themselves? Back in a previous blogging lifetime, Alice Bachini did a hilarious riff ridiculing architects' obsession with clean lines and precise planes.... posted by Michael at July 25, 2007 | perma-link | (41) comments





Monday, July 16, 2007


Angels and Impasto
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Interesting late-19th century American paintings are easy to find in Washington, DC, as I noted in in this post about Thomas Wilmer Dewing. In addition to a room nearly filled with Dewings, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art has several important paintings by Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921). No, that's not a misspelling: the second letter of his middle name is "a," not "e." Biographic information on Thayer can be found here, here and here. Unfortunately, the sources do not agree on all the details. For example, the Wikipedia article (at the time I'm drafting this post) says that Thayer moved from New York City to New Hampshire in 1901, an event followed by the death of his first wife. Other sources say she died in 1891, but agree that the move happened in 1901. In any case, the deaths of two children and the illness and death of his first wife influenced the mercurial Thayer to add angel wings to female figures in what became his best-known works. In addition to allegorical paintings, he painted floral still lifes as well as landscapes of New Hampshire and the Cornwall coast. In the years before the Great War, Thayer became interested in camouflage and wrote a book (published in 1909) that became influential in that field. His art training was classical. He studied at the Brooklyn Art School and the national Academy of Design. After his 1875 marriage, he went to Paris for four years where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts. Gallery Angel - 1887 Thayer's wife was seriously ill when he painted their 12 year old daughter Mary with angel wings. Thayer liked to paint rapidly, preferring to spend no more than three days at a time on a painting for fear of overworking it -- though he might choose to return to it later. This painting is roughly done, aside from central facial details. If I remember correctly, either it or the Stevenson Memorial painting (see below) in the National Gallery exhibits almost slapdash paint application in the mouth area when viewed in person. Virgin Enthroned - 1891 This was painted not long before his wife's death. Daughter Mary is at the center with her sister Gladys "on her right" and her brother Gerald "on her left" according to information from the National Gallery. (For some reason upper middle class families sometimes dressed little boys as girls in the late 19th century. But I wonder of the reverse of the directions might be more correct.) If you look closely at Mary's chin area you can see some of the odd treatment mentioned above. Young Woman - study, no date I'm including this to further illustrate Thayer's portraiture skills. The Stevenson Memorial - 1903 This is a tribute to author Robert Louis Stevenson. The model was a Thayer household servant, not a family member. It too can be seen at the National Gallery. Monadnock in Winter - 1904 Thayer... posted by Donald at July 16, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Painting Frustrations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, I know. To be a good artist (painter version), it's generally a Good Thing that you have a passion for painting and paint and paint and paint in order to approach on the canvas what your intention is. "Practice makes perfect" therefore is as true in painting as it is in music, athletics, surgery and other activities demand high skill. Talent is also useful. That's what I read, anyway. And it seems reasonable. Poor me. [Assumes fetal position, whimpering] Now that I'm retired from a career of committing demography, I'm trying to become a decent painter, focusing initially on portraits. I have talent at the second or third rate level. I lack burning passion to paint. At least now that we've gotten pretty well settled in Seattle, I have a few hours a day to devote to the activity -- not paint, paint and paint, just paint a little. Plus I don't have a studio. I work out of a small bedroom. Not much room to store partly-completed canvases. No sink in there, but I'm only a few steps from a bathroom with a sink for cleanup work. The question becomes one of what kind of paints to use. Not watercolor: hate it. Probably not regular oil paints: long drying time and the need for messy solvents. I've used Alkyd oil paints that are nice because they dry in a few days. Their downside is that they too require solvents. I'm presently using water-based oil paints. The advantage is that water is used for thinning and cleanup. The disadvantage is that drying time is comparable to that of regular oils. Which brings me to the subject of acrylics. Acrylics are water-based and dry within the (half?) hour. I sometimes use acrylics for underpainting before switching to oils. I've also tried to use acrylics to paint entire paintings, but the results have been unsatisfactory. The problem is that acrylics dry so fast that it's often difficult to "work" or blend colors. Yes, there are retarding media that slow drying somewhat, but that helps only a little. I know that acrylics are popular, and I understand their practical advantages. But how can I get decent results? Change to more of a poster-like style with lots of areas of flat color? Actually break down and use my brain to plan the painting better? Or should I stick to what I'm doing, eternal amateur arts buff that I am. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 11, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments





Sunday, July 8, 2007


At Right Reason
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Max Goss has arranged for some tantalizing midsummer guest postings at Right Reason. Click on over and enjoy. * The excellent Philip Bess has just completed an ambitious 4-part series in which he makes a very personal case for the New Urbanism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. Philip uses a lot of well-chosen visuals to illustrate his points. He recently contributed a guest posting about G.K.Chesterton to 2Blowhards, which you can read here. * Rod Dreher delivers the text of a speech he made a while back on the subject of Crunchy Conservatism. Part One is here; Part Two is soon to come. Whether or not you approve of the CC phenomenon, there's no denying that it's something that's in the air. Max Goss reviews Rod's book on the topic here. Eye-opening, thought-provoking cultural thinking from the minds of conservatives ... Prior to the web, who'd have known that such a thing was even possible? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Nikos on Amazon
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to notice that Nikos Salingaros' books about architecture -- previously rather hard to get hold of -- can now be bought from Amazon: here, here, here. They're brilliant. You can get a good sample of Nikos' thinking by reading 2Blowhards' interview with him. All five parts can be accessed via this posting. Here's an impressed and impressive recent Ashraf Salama review of one of Nikos' books. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 3, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Friday, June 22, 2007


Bagatelles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I wrote here about Akseli Gallén-Kallela, an important Finnish artist active around the turn of the 20th century. Many of his paintings are in Finland and therefore inconvenient for most of us to view in person. This problem was somewhat alleviated thanks to a major exhibition of his work in Groningen, Netherlands. The bad news is that the exhibit ended 26 April. The good news is that a catalog, in English, is available. I saw copies at a nearby Barnes & Noble store, but it's available here at Amazon. No doubt there are other places it can be found, including museum shops. So you have the opportunity to get a pretty good idea about what he painted from the very good to the so-so. One feature of the catalog that I found especially nice was two-page spreads containing a detail from one or another of his major paintings (illustrated in full on another page). The detail is good enough that an interested reader (such as me) could glean a decent idea as to how Gallén handled brushwork, color overlaying and other details useful to artists. Another book I recently purchased is a biography of architect Bertram Goodhue -- its Amazon link is here. Goodhue was an outstanding architect who died in his fifties, just as Modernism was starting its rise. So there is no way we can be sure what his final, mature style might have been, unlike the case for near-contemporary (and also short-lived) architect Raymond Hood. Among Goodhue's best-known buildings are the Nebraska State Capitol, the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago and St. Bartholomew's Church on New York City's Park Avenue. The book is interesting because its focus is on Goodhue's residential work, less known than his large projects (which the book does not ignore). An interesting sidelight: I'm been seeking a decent book about Goodhue for a year or two. Apparently all the while I was wallowing in frustration, this book was becoming reality: how convenient. Will lightening strike again? Are there any publishers readying books about Frans Hals and Jean-Léon Gérôme? Hope so. (Note: 2Blowhards does not have advertisements, nor do we have deals with companies such as Amazon.com. The Amazon links above are for informational purposes only.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments





Thursday, June 21, 2007


Steps in the Right Direction?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gotta love those modernist improvements! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments





Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Industrial-Style Upscale Housing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A current architectural style fad is what I'll term "Industrial-Look Housing." It seems most commonly used for apartment buildings. Perhaps you've noticed such structures with curtain walls with vertical or horizontal stamped linear elements and perhaps painted using several bold colors. That style also can be found in single-family houses, even some in upscale neighborhoods. Below is an example I came across in Seattle. Gallery This is a house one drives by shortly after entering the neighborhood. It's a bit fancier than most of the others, but it does set the tone. Another fine, traditional-style house. But kitty-corner from it is ... ... this Industrial-Look house. Here's a picture of it looking uphill. I think the vertical-motif cladding on the top floor makes this house first-cousin to a pre-fab warehouse and not in keeping with its (likely) $2 million-ish value. Granted, the site is awkward enough that a traditional-style house might be hard to design. (Most new houses in the neighborhood are traditional in various guises.) And perhaps the interior is well thought out and lovely beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, I don't find Industrial-Look houses attractive, and I think this one is an eyesore in the context of the neighborhood. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments




Manzoni's Cans
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni canned some of his shit and displayed the cans as art. The gesture was an anarchist's joke at the expense of the artworld -- it was probably meant to be considerably more than that too. In any case, Manzoni's turd-tins eventually became expensive art-things in their own right. Now the joke is getting another punchline -- it turns out that there's no shit in those cans. An artist who worked with Manzoni has revealed that the Manzoni caca-cans are in fact full of plaster. Will the art world take this revelation as further proof of Manzoni's canny greatness? We can only hope. Here's the Piero Manzoni webpage. Wikipedia lists a number of Manzoni's other projects. FWIW, as zany conceptual art-world hijinks go, many of them strike me as pretty inspired. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Victoria, 2007
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is in response to popular demand for pictures of Victoria, BC in comments to my previous post. Well, in response to Michael's comment -- hereabouts, that is popular demand. Victoria Gallery This is the view from our window on our 10-12 June visit to Victoria. At the end of Victoria's Inner Harbour is the Empress Hotel, opened in 1908. It still pretty much sets the architectural tone for the harbor area. It was one of the Canadian Pacific's marvelous hotels sited from Quebec to Victoria. The part with the Ivy is the original section, to the right is the first major addition. The newest part is barely visible at the left. The Empress is now part of the Fairmont chain. The interior of the oldest part contains plenty of dark, varnished wood, reflecting the hotel's Victorian / Edwardian origins. A popular attraction is afternoon High Tea. This is the harborside across the street from the Empress. Street performers are in action on the wide sidewalk during the high tourist season. Not far from the previous scene is where passenger-service float plane terminals are found. Water-based aircraft arrive and depart frequently during the day. Inner Harbour moorages are busy too. Many of the visiting boats are non-trivial, as the photo shows. The background building framed by the boats is the newest wing of the Empress. Kitty-corner from the Empress is the Pariament or Legislative building. This picture was taken during a Royal Canadian Legion ceremony. Canada once had a significant military that was allowed to decline to an empty shell in the Trudeuapian era. Parliament dome is to the left and to the right is the Grand Pacific Hotel, a fairly new building that echoes the Empress' architecture in a modern vein. Across the Inner Harbour is the Delta Resort, which also offers a modernized take on the Empress. Note the stylized domelet that pays homage (in a small way) to Parliament. The boat in the foreground is a harbor taxi. Not all of Victoria's newer buildings are Victorian. This picture shows condominiums or apartments farther out the harbor area. The buildings in the foreground have traditional touches, but the larger structures behind them, besides destroying the scale of the neighborhood, are in the dull, modernist style. Nor are all tourist attractions architectural. Around 20 miles north of town is the famous Butchart Gardens. In 1900 the area pictured was a quarry. Also on the grounds are Japanese, Italian, Rose and other themed gardens. My wife is a huge fan and almost never misses Butchart when she visits Victoria. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 13, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments





Thursday, June 7, 2007


Symbolizing States
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever design a flag? I suppose I must have when I was a child, and it would have been an easy task in those days. Easy because I wasn't carrying burdens of design theory, color theory, history, knowledge of symbolism, political pressures and bureaucratic inertia, just to mention a few factors an adult designer might have to deal with. One problem with flag-designing is that a lot of the best designs have already been taken: consider the French tricolor and the 18th century British Union Flag (the one without the red St. Andrew's type cross). As a result, some pretty awful examples can be found: consider the current flag of South Africa with its awkward design and too many colors. South Africa flag Since flags can assume an infinite number of guises depending upon atmospheric conditions (amount of wind, time of day, etc.), I'm inclined to favor designs that are bold, simple or both. Real-world conditions such as those cited above can make my ideal hard to meet. In general, most flags of U.S. states aren't terrible, design-wise. Most are mediocre, but a few are rather nice. Perhaps that's because they were created in simpler times, with fewer interest groups yapping at the heels of the committee in change of flag design. Nowadays, matters seem worse, if the state quarter (25 cent coin) program is any indicator. Most state quarter designs are disappointing in one way or another, in my opinion: only one is top-notch. Coin design is difficult for a host of reasons. One has to do with the circular shape. Another has to do with the fact that the image is normally in the form of a raised relief (though I suppose sunken patterns are possible). Perhaps the trickiest problem is related to the small size of the coin. For the state quarter project, perhaps the worst problem is that of having to crowd in too many images, often enough a map of the state along with one or more theme items. Let's take a look. Gallery Flags Oregon Oregon's flag is pretty typical in that it has one dominant color along with a centered state crest or seal. The Oregon design clarifies which state's flag it is by adding some words to the ensemble. Texas The Texas flag is both simple and bold, which I like. The red-white-blue color scheme and star-on-a-blue-field lead me to deduct a point or two on the distinctiveness scale. Maryland I like the Maryland flag a lot, even though one might argue that four colors is edging towards excess. Still, it's bright, bold and distinctive. The diagonal pattern in the black-gold quarters is interesting because it doesn't create a simple checkerboard. New Mexico I'm inclined to think that New Mexico's flag is best of all. The colors are distinctive and the design is simple. It's weakness might be in the boldness department. Coins Florida The Florida quarter is a case of symbolic overkill. Too many interest... posted by Donald at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments




Punk Visuals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- London's Barbican art gallery is taking a look at the visual side of the punk-rock years. Quick: Who designed the jacket for the Sex Pistols' album "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"? Answer: Jamie Reid. You can watch a couple of interviews with Jamie Reid here. The London Times has a package of stories that should inform, stir memories, and provoke thought. As someone who spent a little time around NY's punk-rock world -- I was no kind of punk myself but I had a number of friends who were seriously into the scene -- can I express a little surprise? Punk rock was never expected to last. It was meant by the people who made it and enjoyed it -- many of them anyway -- to take the whole pop scene down in flames. Instead it has turned into one of pop culture's most enduring styles. Life is funny sometimes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments




More Glassiness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Taking note of the fact that Philip Johnson's famous Glass House is officially opening to the public, The NY Times' Christopher Mason collects quotes from Johnson's acquaintances and neighbors. They describe a charming man, some great views, and ... Well, when it comes to the gritty particulars of the House itself: leaks, crazy-high fuel bills, and floors so hot you couldn't walk on them in bare feet. As well as -- this is key -- a couple of inhabitants (Johnson and his companion David Whitney) who were, in the words of Robert A.M. Stern, "anal-retentives of the most incredible kind." In the Glass House, there was to be no mess, no rumpus, no trace of anything that wasn't spare, and stage-managed to the final millimeter. Hilary Lewis, a writer, recalls one visit: I was there for a photo shoot, and a photographer went to move a couple of objects on the Barcelona table -- an ashtray and a malachite box -- to better focus the shot on Johnson. David silently walked over and moved them back into their original position. Johnson nodded to the photographer and said, "I think it's better." Just to spell some of my own reactions out: It was Johnson's house and property to do with as he pleased, of course. And the Glass House evidently suited his finicky nature to a T. But... Would such a place suit your nature? How and why should such a peculiar structure have come to play such an important role in accounts of architecture history? Why does our architecture press (and academic establishment) continue to fixate on angles-and-glass modernism? One possible reason: Although it can be hell to live in and work in, glassy Modernism makes for pretty photographs and attractive magazine layouts. Another: Perhaps the people who swoon over glassy Modernism are the kinds of people -- "anal-retentives of the most incredible kind" -- who live for blankness, transparency, and crisp lines. If so, are these people the rest of us should be taking terribly seriously? Philip Murphy blogged -- in informed and down-to-earth terms -- about visiting the Glass House here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments




More Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * For those who enjoy being reminded what a filthy game politics generally is, this David Kirkpatrick piece should fit the bill. Alaska's absurd Sen. Don Young -- responsible recently for the infamous $200 million "bridge to nowhere" -- is now earmarking $10 million for a Florida road that no one in its neighborhood even wants. No one, that is, aside from Daniel J. Aronoff, a real-estate investor with Florida holdings that will explode in value thanks to the road. Aronoff happens to have contributed to heavily to Young's campaign. * A fun fact from Heather Mac Donald: "Welfare use actually increases between the second and third generation of Mexican-Americans -- to 31 percent of all third-generation Mexican-American households." (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) * Where our immigration policies are concerned, bleeding-heart types might want to consider the fact that, according to Business Week, even the legendary Keynesian economist Paul Samuelson thinks that Wealthier Americans tend to benefit from the current wave of immigration while poorer Americans tend to suffer. A farmer in California may benefit from the inexpensive labor of illegal immigrants, while a construction worker in Texas sees fewer jobs and lower pay. A well-off suburban family may get lower-priced house cleaning or lawn care, while an engineering student has fewer companies offering positions. Let's not forget Nick Lowe's song "Cruel to Be Kind," eh? Link thanks to George Borjas. * And The Times of London reports a milestone in the making: "Muhammad is now second only to Jack as the most popular name for baby boys in Britain and is likely to rise to No 1 by next year." * Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's new book. * Agnostic has some thoughts about boys who fancy "exotic" girls. * DVD Spin Doctor reports that MGM's new "Sergio Leone Anthology" is a classily-done production. * Scott Kirsner wonders how fast digital downloading is going to replace DVDs as many people's movie-harvesting mechanism of choice. Is the porn industry -- once again -- showing the rest of us the way? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments





Tuesday, June 5, 2007


A 1933 Portrait Painting Lesson
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Want to paint a portrait? The way it was done just before Modernism kicked in? Then click here to link to The World of Painting site where a 1933 portrait painting demonstration by Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937) from The Studio Publications (that appeared in 1934) is reproduced. True, 1933 was nearly three decades after Cubism burst on the scene, so don't take my "just before Modernism kicked in" phrase literally. My justification is that László was trained in the immediate pre-Modern period and he did not adopt a Modernist style, unlike many artists of his generation. So what you'll see is pretty much year 1900 stuff. Below are some photos from the demonstration to whet your appetite. Preliminary sketch of actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies Beginning to paint Blocking in the background The completed portrait I offer no profound thoughts: just enjoy this opened time-capsule. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 5, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Sunday, June 3, 2007


Roger Kimball Gives Art a Big Yawn
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There he goes again, that Roger Kimball -- criticizing contemporary art. This time it's in the June issue of The New Criterion, the magazine he and Hilton Kramer edit. The link to the article is here (thanks to Scott Johnson at PowerlineBlog for providing the initial link). Read The Whole Thing if you can: it's not awfully long. His "hook" is an art show at Bard College, a little ways up the river from New York City. He calls attention to some of the nasty things that are being passed off as "art" these days, but notes that the Dada / Surrealism gangs were doing pretty much the same things to shock people 80 or 90 years ago. Much of Kimball's article covers old ground, but he makes some nice points. Here are two quotes. No, the thing to appreciate about "Wrestle," [the art show at Bard College] about the Hessel Museum and the collection of Marieluise Hessel, and about the visual arts at Bard generally is not how innovative, challenging, or unusual they are, but how pedestrian and, sad to say, conventional they are. True, there is a lot of ickiness on view at the Hessel Museum. But it is entirely predictable ickiness. It's outrage by-the-yard, avant-garde in bulk, smugness for the masses. And this brings me to what I believe is the real significance of institutions like the art museum at Bard, the Hessel collection that fills it, and the surrounding atmosphere of pseudo-avant-garde self-satisfaction. The "arts" at Bard are notable not because they are unusual but because they are so grindingly ordinary. Leon Botstein described Marieluise Hessel as a "risk giver." . . . Ms. Hessel once enthusiastically recalled her introduction to contemporary art as a young woman in Munich: "It was like entering a cult group." That cult has long since become the new Salon where the canons of accepted taste are enforced with a rigidity that would have made Bouguereau jealous. The only difference is that instead of a pedantic mastery of perspective and modeling we have a pedantic mastery of all the accepted attitudes about race, class, sex, and politics. Since skill is no longer necessary to practice art successfully, the only things left are 1) appropriate subject matter (paradoxically, the more inappropriate the better) and 2) the right politics. From the way Kimball described it, the show at Bard took the Shock The Audience approach. I agree with Kimball that it's very difficult to shock the art world or even much of the general public nowadays: that well is pretty dry. However I will, out of pure kindliness, offer a modest tip for artists with reasonably strong, but slightly fading reputations to juice up their audacity quotient and get a lot of free media ink and pixels. Do the following: (1) mount a large canvas -- say four feet tall and six feet wide -- and paint it white; (2) get a bucket of black paint and... posted by Donald at June 3, 2007 | perma-link | (29) comments





Wednesday, May 30, 2007


What's Dewing in Washington
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- You can hardly find his paintings anywhere else, but they're thick as lobbyists in Washington, DC. That was the impression I got last week during my mad dash through our capitol's museums and galleries. I'm referring to Thomas Wilmer Dewing, of course. His work can be seen in the Freer Gallery, tucked away amidst all its Asian art next to James McNeill Whistler's famous Peacock Room. Presumably the Dewings here are from Charles Lang Freer's collection, Freer being Dewing's major patron. Another collector who bought a lot of Dewing's paintings was John Gellatly, and his collection forms the basis for a room full of them I saw in the Smithsonian American Art Museum a few blocks north of the Mall in the old downtown area. The following biographical sketch is based on Web material found here, here and here. Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) was born in the Boston area and, despite family financial problems, was able to study at Paris' favorite art school for Americans, the Académie Julian (under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebre) in 1876-77. He returned to Boston, but moved to New York in 1880 where he married painter Maria Richards Oakey (1845-1927, a student of John LaFarge) whose connections helped him gain entry to its artistic world. One of his pals was architect Stanford White. The Dewings and their daughter went to France in 1895, spending time in Paris and Claude Monet's haunt, Giverny (the town was home to a number of American artists around the turn of the century). But the pull of America and the summer art colony in Cornish, NH was too strong for them to stay long in France. He was 62 when the famous Armory Show introduced modernism to America. But, unlike many younger artists, he refused to be seduced by the movement even though his paintings became less marketable during the remaining 25 years of his life. According to Susan A. Hobbs, in the second reference link above, Dewing was a physically large man with a prickly personality. Yet his favorite subject matter was wispy women, often in psychologically ambiguous poses that give a slight tension to what he portrayed. At the hight of his Tonalist period, he referred to his works as simply "decorations." Perhaps some critics might agree. Nevertheless, these paintings can fascinate. Would I buy one if it were on the market and I had the money? You bet. I'll let you judge for yourself. Gallery Photo of Thomas Wilmer Dewing After Sunset - 1892 In the Garden - 1892-94 Sylvan Sounds - 1896-97 Young Girl Seated - 1896 A Reading - 1897 Lady in White - 1910 The Necklace - 1907 An Artist - 1916 Why do I like Dewing's paintings? Firstly, because they are well-done, and I'm a pushover for technical expertise as most of you know by now. And I admit to liking pretty women, his main subject. Plus, I find his use of color both interesting and satisfying.... posted by Donald at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments





Wednesday, May 23, 2007


More Jane Jacobs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an interview with the great Jane Jacobs that I just stumbled across. Although it's a conversation about mundane-seeming stuff -- the city of Buffalo and its plans to build a convention center -- it got my head vibrating in wonderful ways. Typical passage: INTERVIEWER: If these developments have to arise out of the efforts of individual innovators, what role can the government play in promoting the right sort of conditions to enable that? JACOBS: The government often needs to remove barriers of one sort or another, and certainly not destroy these things. That was the great tragedy of urban renewal, that so much was destroyed, and lots of cities simply haven't recovered from it. It's taken New York a long time to recover. It's healing itself now, New York City. Newark, not at all yet. Cities can destroy themselves beyond a point of no return, if they just become inert and dumb. INTERVIEWER: By trying to copy ideas from elsewhere rather than building on what's unique about them and growing their own ideas? JACOBS: And valuing the ideas of their own people. Small hint for those who have yet to wake up to the fun of thinking about cities: Cities equal consciousness, writ on a very big scale. Which means that when someone as insightful as Jacobs is talking about convention centers and neighborhoods, she's also being a philosopher of mind. And a tart and down-to-earth one she was: Reading this interview, you'll get a taste for how Jacobs saw cities and economies as evolved, organic things. (You may also get a sense of how exciting what was once thought of as "ecological thinking" can be.) Jacobs is forever setting her subjects in larger contexts -- yet she does so without resorting to religion. Not that I have anything against resorting to religion, of course. I wrote an appreciation of Jane Jacobs back here. Zompist does a first-class job of explicating Jacobs' vision of cities and economies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Monday, May 7, 2007


Landscapes and Modernism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the second posting in an occasional series dealing with the practical limits of Modernism and what the future might bring should it and various "post" mini-movements drive into the ditch. My first post, Portraits and Modernism, introduced itself as follows: A theme I've been edging up to and that I plan to pursue from time to time in the coming months is the question of the future of painting assuming that Modernism and its spawn prove to be an aberration in the long-term history of art. The validity of that assumption can be left for discussion at another time... For now, I simply want to use it as a peg for a series of blog posts. One way of examining this is to look at subject-matter that is comparatively impervious to Modernism and see how artists have been dealing with it. My main conclusion? The lesson to be drawn from this is that portraiture, in any reasonable sense, cannot stray very far from representation in the direction of Modernism without becoming something other than portraiture. The same holds for landscape painting. And for still life painting, historical painting, religious painting -- for any kind of painting that requires some kind of representation. While it's possible for an artist to dash off an abstract painting and title it, say, "View of Toledo (Ohio)" hardly anyone could guess it was a "landscape" absent the title. Let's look at landscape painting to see how it weathered the Modernist movement. Gallery The Stone Bridge - Rembrandt van Rijn Let's start with one by Da Man. Yes, he's especially noted for portraits, but I can't resist a classical Dutch landscape showing ... lotsa sky. English Coasts - Holman Hunt, 1852 This is a Pre-Raphaelite work crammed with carefully-rendered detail. If this reproduction is halfway valid, the detailing doesn't descend to the level of hard-edge visual sterility all too common even today. The Red Roofs - Camille Pissarro, 1877 I suppose I should have used a Monet landscape rather than this Pissarro to illustrate Impressionism. Monet and some other Impressionists used highly visible, discrete brush strokes of fairly pure colors to cover their canvasses. Pissarro went over to such a style later in his career, but I've always found that kind of painting too ephemeral. I like more structure and solidity -- as in the Pissarro shown here. You can see some harbingers of Modernism, most noteworthy the flattening of depth and the "designed" composition. Mont Sainte-Victoire - Paul Cézanne, 1904 This is one of Cézanne's last paintings of one of his favorite subjects. The color blocks and flat brush strokes hint at the Cubism that was to appear a few years later. Landscape With Red Trees - Maurice de Vlaminck, 1906 Sketchy, flattened, almost poster-like (in the French manner). Colors are simplified and mildly Fauvist, being not quite what one really sees in nature. The Sea, Maine - John Marin, 1922 This Marin represents something close to... posted by Donald at May 7, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments





Friday, April 27, 2007


New Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good news for unorthodox architecture buffs: a new journal -- The International Journal of Architectural Research -- that looks to be far more sensible and open-minded than the establishment architecture magazines are. While the IJAR may be a wee bit austere for mere fans, those who enjoy technical and philosophical conundra should find a lot to chow down on. Don't miss "Restructuring 21st Century Architecture Through Human Intelligence" (PDF alert), a brilliant article in the IJAR's first issue by 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros, co-written with Kenneth G. Masden. One of many great passages in their piece: How can anyone believe that a "Dutch Design Demigod" [Nikos and Masden are referring here to the international superstar Rem Koolhaas] could know more about a place than the very people who were born and raised there? How can these starchitects espose to know what is best for the rest of the world? More importantly, how do we combat the aesthetic authority that such individuals now exert over our place in the world? My own preferred answer to this final question is: Hey, how about starting off by making fun of arrogant jerks and their silly buildings? And how about ridiculing the cowardly and slavish critical and academic apparatus that serves them? 2Blowhards did a long interview with Nikos Salingaros a while back: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Print and read: It's a mind-blower of a very pleasant sort, if I do say so myself. Nikos' own, very generous, website is here. He makes a lot of his work available for free. Some links for those who find the whole buildings-and-space thang fascinating but who stare in outrage and amazement at the way the topic is typically treated and covered: Whatever you think of James Kunstler's Peak Oil argument, in the unorthodox-architecture world he's a firebrand and a giant. His Eyesore of the Month isn't to be missed, and his books about American urbanism and sprawl (here and here) are rowdy and rousing eye-openers. Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and Tom Wolfe's "From Bauhaus to Our House" -- both of them great reads -- played huge roles in helping many people see the truth about modernist architecture. I wrote a links-filled intro to Jane Jacobs back here. Back in the late 1960s, the sociologist William Whyte had an inspired idea: Why not observe systematically how people actually use urban spaces? Whyte brought together much of what he learned about people and urbanism in this very enjoyable book. Here's a substantial article about / interview with him. Two comprehensive and fun introductions to the New Urbanism are Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck's "Suburban Nation" and Philip Langdon's "A Better Place to Live." The New York Times' architecture historian Christopher Gray is a reliably enlightening and informative pleasure; in his company you quickly start to get the hang of what it's like to experience the built environment. It isn't a matter... posted by Michael at April 27, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Stuffy Vs. Po-Mo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a couple of good postings, Right Reason's Max Goss notices a connection between consumerism and post-modernism. I pitched in with a comment that I'm allowing myself to gussy up and re-publish here. Two additions to your thoughts? One is that I've known kids with degrees in Theory (ie., French post-modernism) who have gone on to careers in advertising. They've all told me that academic po-mo is in fact pretty good preparation for advertising work. Makes sense to me. The other is ... Well, can I offer a little semi-praise for post-modernism? Not for its academic / Theoretical side, which really is pretty hideous. But for its looser, more informal-attitude side? Academic and establishment views of art prior to the '60s and '70s in America were awfully stuffy -- as in "sneering at movies and jazz" stuffy. These attitudes badly needed shaking up. A looser, more appreciative and open attitude towards our culture was long-overdue. American culture in particular is, after all, not a centralized Official Thing but a kind of makeshift patchwork. It's a hodgepodge, an ever-scruffy, eternal work-in-progress. And our artistic/cultural greatness, such as it is, often arises from folk, oddball, and commercial (not just high-minded) fields and activities. These seem -- to me at least -- to be self-evident facts. Short version: Any account of American art that pretends to be comprehensive and sensible yet that doesn't take into account jazz, the movies, automobile design, Chuck Jones, Bette Davis, and Bo Diddley is a joke, at least as far as I'm concerned. I was in school in the transition years (early '70s), and it was an odd time. On the one hand: played-out, drunken old New-Criticism farts. On the other: dynamic, exciting (but, alas, politically-driven) young Turks who wanted a total revolution. Basically, as far as I could tell, it was about a new generation of young and greedy academics who coveted the tenure that the drunken old farts were abusing. But for someone in the midst of it, it boiled down to a stark A-or-B choice: between blindly defending the old-style loftiness or joining the politically-motivated young careerists in overthrowing it and leveling everything out. The option I favored (don't throw out the stuffy old canon -- it's pretty neat in its own right -- but do open it hugely up) just wasn't available. Proud to say I took the sensible course of leaving academia and never looking back. Anyway, the experience left me wondering about America, and about how we always seem to be generating these polarized, no-win situations. There seems to be an in-the-genes drive in our life to turn everything into a pro wrestling contest. Why do we find it so hard to achieve balance? Why does it always have to be A vs. B? What do we have against A+B? Could it be that we have something against balance? My own guess at an answer to this question is that 1) we're culturally insecure -- we... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Monday, April 23, 2007


Seattle's New Sculpture Park
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The red, dinosaur-like object on the left that looks like it's about to attack the Space Needle over to the right is actually an eagle. Well, "Eagle" is the title of the 1971 Alexander Calder sculpture you're looking at. It was donated to Seattle's new Olympic Sculpture Park (a branch of the Seattle Art Museum) by Jon Shirley, retired Microsoft president, and his wife, Mary. The sculpture park opened in January, not without its share of controversy. Perhaps the most contentious item was the fact that the park wiped out the trolly barn for Seattle's popular waterfront trolly line featuring antique rolling stock from Australia. Until a new barn gets built, trolly riders get the thrill of a free transit bus ride along Alaskan Way and the docks. The site was difficult in that it straddles three sets of railroad tracks and is partly on a hillside and partly on the shore of Elliott Bay. Setting aside the trolly barn issue, my judgment is that the landscaping works pretty well. This is because, when the sky is clear and the Olympic Mountains are visible, visitors get a fine view. As for the sculpture, it's Modernist Establishment pretty much to the core. Let's take a look at some other pictures I took last month. Gallery The setting This is looking north along the Elliott Bay shore. Behind the people in the upper-right are the railroad tracks. Enjoying the view Across Puget Sound are the Olympic Mountains -- in a National Park. Sky Landscape I - Louise Nevelson, 1983 Oh, yeah. The sculpture. I'll show a few starting with this Nevelson. Typewriter Eraser, Scale X - Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998-99 My guess is that it isn't functional. And it's low-tech. Coming next, a giant Delete button. Love & Loss - Roy McMakin, 2005 Below the ampersand, in white, are the other letters in the title. Tom Wolfe was right -- this "art" is literally writing. Wake -Richard Serra, 2004 According to the Seattle Times, this weighs 300 tons and measures 125 by 46 feet. Something familiar Ah, a human figure growing out of sculpted stone ... how interesting! Oops. It's not in the Olympic Sculpture Park. I took this photo by an entrance to Vienna's Stadtpark last fall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 23, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Warhol and Worthiness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I recently spent a few days in Pittsburgh where -- with the help of a group of talented and rowdy local actors -- we presented some of our co-written erotic fiction. The reading went well, thanks, and it was a treat meeting and comparing notes with some of Pittsburgh's young-and-creative set. The Wife and I were both struck by what a cool city Pittsburgh has become. (The locals tell us that this turnaround has taken place very recently -- in only the last five or six years.) The old-industrial-powerhouse basics of the city are great: lots of working-class brawniness and pride, and some impressively quiet and spacious, old-tycoonish stretches too. The city is blessed with mucho in the way of geographical variety -- hills, rivers, cliffs -- and is crammed with tons of character-filled neighborhoods, and an amazing stock of gorgeous old commercial buildings and houses. As well as -- of particular interest to Offbeat Us -- a couple of fizzy boho neighborhoods. It's great that housing prices are modest too. An offbeat, slacker-ish person, in other words, could lead a swell life in Pittsburgh. Small musing: As The Wife and I have visited cities in our quest for world erotic-fiction domination, we've often been struck by a big difference between now and when we were setting out. Back in the day, there simply weren't many American cities with lively boho and creative scenes. If that was the kind of life you wanted to lead, you had a very restricted set of places where you might settle. These days, wowee. The damnedest cities turn out to be home to crackling scenes inhabited by sweetly nutty people you can have crazy-fun conversations with. This is a great development, of course -- may a thousand flowers bloom. Do we owe it entirely to the decentralizing effects of the internet? I blogged here about how wonderful it is that we're beginning to see young films and young film-talent arising from places like, well, Pittsburgh. But this discovery has also left The Wife and me stealing shy glances at each other. After all, if it's possible to lead a rewarding creative life in a cheap and friendly place like Pittsburgh -- where people are welcoming, where the scale is human, and where intellectual pretentions don't weigh as heavily as they do in NYC -- then why are the two of us putting up with the trials of life in the Really, Really Big City? Maybe the time has come to move. Too bad I still have a few years to go before I can cash in the micro-pension I've worked so long for ... Anyway, a couple of highlights of our Pittsburgh trip occurred during a pilgramage to the Andy Warhol Museum. Worth doing, I guess, though I say that without much enthusiasm. (I blogged about Warhol here.) Surrounded by his paintings, what mostly struck me was how Warhol's art turns a gallery or a... posted by Michael at April 18, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments





Monday, April 16, 2007


Are Captions Harmful?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Boston's Isabella Stuart Gardner (1840-1924) could be eccentric and opinionated. But she easily got away with it because she had gobs of money. Her legacy is the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum (also see here) in the Fenway area not far from the Museum of Fine Arts. Gardner was able to ironclad (how's that for making a verb from an adjective, folks!) things so that all works had to remain placed as she had dictated. Moreover, if a work had no caption, no future captioning would be allowed. I can't find a link to support this (sorry!), but I did read someplace that Gardner believed that captions could distract from the viewing and appreciation experience. So, while most works have information plaques, some do not in order to force viewers to appreciate art unaided. I was ignorant of this when I visited the museum a few years ago. I became puzzled and a little frustrated when I couldn't even find out who painted a painting and when it was done. [Pause for reflection] In theory I'm inclined to agree with her. When I'm zipping through the Louvre or any museum with more than half a dozen galleries, I tend to glance at the caption plaques to catch the name of the artist. So if I see "Umbriago"* rather than "Tiepolo," I'm likely to keep on zipping. It's brand-consiousness: an Aston-Martin versus Daewoo thing. (What I just described does not mean that I never pay attention to works by artists I'm not familiar with. A really stunning painting can indeed grab my attention. But it does have to be literally "stunning.") If Gardner thought this focus on the artist distracted from focusing on the merits of the work, then she was right if my behavior is any guide. On the other hand, when there is nothing said about a painting and it's one that I think merits further attention, I would have no way of discovering more unless a museum guard or gallery guide was there to help. Frustrating! (Did I mention that I hate frustration?) So I think there ought to be a caption for each work with name-rank-serial number type stuff: basic facts. Or, failing that, a small guide sheet listing what's on each gallery wall for reference. What can be safely dispensed with are extended captions -- especially interpretive ones. These run a strong risk of imposing invalid concepts in the minds of viewers. This potential for danger is more acute nowadays than in the past thanks to the politicization of the arts and intellectual fads such as deconstructionism in art criticism. See Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters for examples of this. Such styles of criticism tend to impute meanings to paintings that might never have occurred to the artist. Not that the artist even needed to know. After all, he was little more than an puppet of the culture and power structure of his time, the theories usually contend. I... posted by Donald at April 16, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments




Moleskine Videos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Showing off what you've done in your Moleskine sketchbook seems to have become a YouTube genre of its own. This guy has some serious drawing chops. I love this guy's illustration-style images. I wish I could draw like this guy, or paint like this gal. MattiasA is quite a talent. Here's his blog; it's a sketchbook in its own right, and it's full of whimsy and sophistication. His visit to a fondue restaurant gave me a good case of the giggles. Buy your own Moleskine notebooks here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 16, 2007 | perma-link | (0)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Symmetry Preferences
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey gang! It's personality-testing time here at 2Blowhards!! I have no idea whether psychologists, pop or otherwise, have done such a thing as I'm proposing below. Moreover, I don't care. Since this is an arts (among other things) blog, I've concocted a visual test. All I ask is that you introspect briefly and decide if you prefer symmetrical architecture to asymmetrical or vice-versa. Here are examples: Symmetrical Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park. Asymmetrical Hill House, Scotland by Mackintosh. Okay? Figured it out? Because we live in an esteem-building, non-threatening age while at the same time favor free expression and candor, I offer the following: If you lean towards Symmetry, you are either... solidly-grounded and organized rigidly compulsive If you prefer Asymmetry, you are either... flexible and open-minded a disorganized mess So there you are! Happy to be of service. Enough fun. I imagine most readers really do have a general preference, though I have no idea if the root is personality or something else -- it's difficult to tease out and probably not very important. I happen to prefer asymmetrical architecture. Symmetry and classical, axis-based planning schemes strike me as being slightly cold. Or perhaps unnatural. I think that, in general, asymmetric shapes better reflect the functions of interior rooms better than symmetrical buildings where interiors are more likely to be contrived to conform to the exterior. And from an evolutionary standpoint, aside from living things that move about, the appearance of symmetry is essentially absent. Therefore I suspect that, down deep, we feel something is "wrong" when confronted by symmetrical, non-movable objects such as buildings. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 15, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments





Thursday, April 12, 2007


Which Culture-Things From Our Era Will Live On?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's a dumb game, it's even a pointless game. But it can be a fun game too. Which culture-things from our era do you suspect will have a long, long life? Will still be in circulation in, say, 2300? Here are the rules: We aren't listing culture-things because we love them, or are rooting for them, or because we feel they're worthy. We're listing the culture-things that we have a hunch will live on for practical reasons -- ie., given what we know of life, given what we sense about how culture is evolving, and where it's going. Hard-headed is good, sentimental is bad. My nominees: Led Zep: "Whole Lotta Love." It'll never stop playing. Jenni from Jennicam, because in 2300 everybody will be broadcasting themselves, and Jennicam will be celebrated as the "Odyssey" of the webcam form. The "For Dummies" books, because in 2300 all books will be books you can use. This kitty vidclip from YouTube, because it'll be recognized as the greatest example ever of the kitty-video genre -- which in turn will have become a major art genre. Screw magazine's Al Goldstein, because by 2300 culture and porn will have become indistinguishable. Pong, because in 200 years culture and games will be synonymous. The iPod and the Nike swoosh, because in 2300 everything will look like either an iPod or a Nike swoosh. Craig Stecyk and Glen Friedman, because everything in 2300 that doesn't look like an iPod or a Nike swoosh will look like a decorated skateboard. The Onion, because sometimes -- even if rarely -- history is just. "America's Funniest Home Videos," because the best-of-vidclip format will be acknowledged as the most influential culture-format that our era came up with. Your hunches? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 12, 2007 | perma-link | (82) comments





Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Underground
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Lovelace's "Retarded Animal Babies" represents a lot of likeably rude, "what has that guy been smoking?" skill and imagination. Once upon a time we had underground comix. (My own favorites: Gilbert Shelton's "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," Robert Armstrong's "Mickey Rat," and David Boswell's "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman." Genius stuff, all of it.) Perhaps today's equivalent is the raunchy and lunatic Flash animation. Here's David Lovelace's own website, where the creativity is beyond-fizzy. There's no question that the man really likes keyboards. Best, Michael UPDATE: Shouting Thomas could use some links. Here's a note from him: I've been searching for good weblogs on a number of topics, but primarily: 1. The Philippines 2. Country Music 3. Blues It's so easy to find political weblogs. Tough to find well written, independent weblogs in other areas. The political stuff is beaten to death. I am fascinated by the culture of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Would love to be informed of well written weblogs that address these cultures. In respect to the music weblogs, I'd like to find those that are intelligent and honestly address the history of cultures of the music... no fanzines. Does anyone have any good blog-tips to pass along to ST? Shouting Thomas' recent posting about how unhealthy being a musician can be is well worth a read.... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments




Love It / Hate It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Francis Morrone takes a look at a poll of the public's favorite buildings. Result: Only one modernist building makes it into the top 20. Even Frank Lloyd Wright doesn't turn up on the list until #29. Otherwise: traditional, traditional, traditional. Yet on the architecture establishment goes, designing and constructing ever-more modernist buildings that the public is going to hate ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments





Friday, April 6, 2007


Installation by Megan and Murray
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I see that Megan and Murray McMillan have created "Channelbone," an installation that will go on view in St. Louis starting today. A big thing -- with a ribcage and video screens -- "Channelbone" sounds somewhere between nifty and spectacular. Here's the gallery's info. But hurry: The piece will only be on display for two days. Megan and Murray blog here, and show off a lot of their art here. Megan wrote a Guest Posting for 2Blowhards here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 6, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Thursday, April 5, 2007


More on Thom Mayne's Federal Building
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I linked to a funny and smart Philip Murphy blast at San Francisco's hideous new Federal Building, designed by the disgraceful Thom Mayne, a favorite bete noir of this blog. What our betters want us to be grateful for... Quick recap of the pertinent points: The building is in a Deconstructivist style that flaunts Green credentials. That might sound attractive on many levels. If Modernism was overly rigid, and all about clean lines, blank planes, and right angles, Decon buildings are wobbly and zigzaggy. Whee! Problem solved! If Modernist buildings -- steel-and-glass cages, after all -- were inefficient users of energy, and were spectacularly inhumane in their treatment of their inhabitants and users, a Green building opens up, filters, and recycles. It returns power and respect to the environment and to the people. Green/Decon is Modernism transcended, in other words. Well, it is if you buy the propaganda. M. Blowhard doesn't buy the propaganda. The M. Blowhard view is that all these claims are (hilariously, tragically) spurious. The design problem with Modernist buildings wasn't just that they were rigid and grid-like, it's that they transformed our living and working spaces into abstractions. Decon's package -- exploding planes and lines -- is every bit as abstract as what Modernism was selling (clean lines and right angles). It seems to be a simple fact of life that many people feel lost and adrift in abstract environments. Many people in fact find the experience of wandering through faceless voids and double-back spaces to be nightmarish. What could be easier to understand? After all, these buildings and spaces offer people nothing for their feelings and their imaginations to nestle into or latch onto. The environmental / human problem with Modernist buildings was less a matter of raw BTU's than it was of top-down arrogance. Thom Mayne talks a good anti-establishment line, but he's as determined to play the genius-visionary, architect-as-god role as any pompous Modernist. You have a problem? He has the solution. And you will live in it. Totalitarian-corporatist environments that wear a coating of populist rhetoric aren't any more palatable than totalitarian-corporatist environments that announce their natures more frankly. Short version: Deconstructivist architecture is Modernism by other means -- it isn't an alternative to Modernism, it's what Modernism has become. As for the Green component ... Well, it's like the chaos-theory claims that Decon often makes for itself. Traditional architecture was already plenty Green; traditional architecture -- if your eyes and mind and imagination are really open to it -- already embodies plenty of chaos theory. Why do we allow our elite architecture world to continue getting us all worked up about attaining what's already ours? But these are generalities. What's the reality of the Federal Buiding like? I'm revisiting these topics because just this morning a comment was dropped on my blog posting by a woman who's actually familiar with the building. I reprint her comment here: Folks, As someone who's actually going... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments





Sunday, March 25, 2007


Dear National Trust ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just wrote a note to the National Trust for Historical Preservation. Somebody's gotta take the hard-reactionary stance, darn it. Dear All -- I'd been under the impression that the preservation movement came about in large part as a protest against what modernism has done to our environment. An anti-modernist stance is certainly why I at least am interested in supporting the preservation movement. So imagine my dismay in recent years as the National Trust has taken it more and more on themselves to speak up for and agitate for preservation of modernist buildings. I notice in your Jan/Feb issue two major articles cryin' the blues about supposed modernist masterpieces, for example. (One of them is here.) I'm very sorry to see that you've fallen for the architecture world's argument that modernism now deserves to be seen not as a disastrous episode in architecture history, but as a worthy-of-preservation moment. The argument the architecture establishment is making is yet another in a series of their endless attempts to legitimize and perpetuate modernism. "It wasn't so bad ... It was well-intended ... After all, some of the buildings were great ... It deserves love and care too ... Why not embrace it?" No no no. The current architecture establishment is the direct descendant of the original modernists, and they're doing what they can to entice preservationists into supporting their awful line of descent. They're doing what they can to co-opt their enemies. Don't fall for it. Insist on the facts: Modernism stank, and was a destructive and totalitarian disaster. We should be fighting these attempts to redeem modernism, not falling for them. Let's be clear: Modernism was a terrible disaster, the worst thing to happen in all of architectural history. The scale of its damage to our shared environment is on a par with what happens when wars devastate cities and countrysides. Well, I guess you already have fallen for the let's-preserve-modernism line, darn it. Would you mind directing me to a truly anti-modernist, pro-preservation-of-traditional-architecture organization? Best, Michael Blowhard (I didn't really sign my note "Michael Blowhard.") I wonder if they'll print it. Any bets? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 25, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments




San Francisco Defaces Itself
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Philip Murphy cracks a lot of good (and well-aimed) jokes about San Francisco's hideous new Federal Building, designed by the awful Thom Mayne. Gotta love this p.r. passage from the design firm ARUP: The building "will embody a commitment to urban renewal and community spirit while providing a progressive workplace environment." When you hear the words "progressive workplace environment," it's time to run for the hills. Something to remember when you eyeball photos of the building: Those are your tax dollars at work. Yup, these days that's the kind of architecture your government is supporting -- and thus encouraging. 2Blowhards had some fun at Thom Mayne's expense, and set this kind of thing in a bit of context, here. Back here, I proposed calling these glossy new buildings "chic kitchen-appliance architecture." Best, Michael UPDATE: A nice elaboration from GK: "Just want to mention that your headline 'San Francisco defaces itself' isn't quite accurate. The federal government is exempt from having to comply with local zoning and planning ordinances, and it's generally agreed that the Federal Building would not have passed here. More accurately, you should say 'Feds deface San Francisco'. "Some critics, btw, have seen it as a good thing that the visionary federal government was able to bypass suffocating regulation by the people who live around their building." Yet more proof, as far as I'm concerned, that our elites really have it in for the rest of us ...... posted by Michael at March 25, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments





Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Nudes in Nature
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Just over two years ago I guest-blogged about my lousy art school training. An event I didn't mention was an oil-painting class assignment involving a nude and the grounds of the University of Washington campus. I'm bringing it up now because it makes a nice little hook for some observations. I just lied. That linked article did make passing reference to the model. In introductory drawing classes we had a fifty-ish woman who stripped down to her undies to pose. When we graduated from 100 to 200 or 300-level courses requiring a live model, she went "all the way" wardrobe-wise. The other models weren't much more appealing. Until one happy day when a really fine-looking young lady showed up to pose. Sadly, she wasn't happy with her work and managed to skip quite a few sessions. But we dabbed and smeared away regardless. Later in the term the teacher had us go outdoors to sketch trees, bushes, grass and other springtime backdrops with the idea that the finished painting would feature the nude in a natural setting. Nearly 50 years later, I now get what he was up to. I think. You see, nudes and nature don't easily mix. I suspect that was the Truth we were supposed to winkle out of our experience in this project. I need to explain more fully. If you read the linked article above you'll discover that instructors at the School of Art at the University of Washington towards the end of the 1950s were extremely reluctant to teach us anything for fear that some vital creative spark or another would get extinguished. A few times we got a cursory explanation of the color wheel, but I remember hearing nothing about how to mix skin color or the colors of grass, trees, and so on. I suppose a few students had taken the initiative to buy some how-to books, but silly me assumed that teachers would be teaching us what we needed to know. So I naïvely simply squeezed out green paints from some tubes to deal with foliage. I completed my nu dans la forêt effort and that was that. I finally threw the painting away when I stumbled across it while cleaning out my parents' house 16 years ago. I knew it wasn't very good, but wasn't sure why -- probably personal incompetence coupled with the lack of instruction. All true, but there was more to it. One reason why nudes and nature don't easily mix is because we seldom see naked people sitting on a lawn or wandering through meadows next to a woods. Seeing that in a painting tends to bring everything to a halt while we construct a reason for what we are seeing -- a story, if you will. Classical scenes tend to reduce this mental pause because (if one has a Classical education) the viewer reads the painting's title, says "Aha!" to himself and then takes in the scene. The artist... posted by Donald at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Friday, March 16, 2007


Philadelphia Doppelgänger
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards-- You probably know about this. I just discovered it. After all, there's never been a curve I haven't been behind. Anyway, behold paintings by two well-known Philadelphia-area artists: An Arcadian - Thomas Eakins, c. 1883 Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth, 1948 Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 16, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Vollard on Art Trends
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What generates new trends in art? Consider Ambroise Vollard the famous Parisian art dealer who championed (and wrote books about) Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. He also championed (but didn't write books about) Picasso, Rouault, Gauguin and Van Gogh. The Met recently had an exhibit keyed on Vollard. I haven't read the catalogue, but an International Herald Tribune article takes issue with apparent insinuations that Vollard took unfair advantage of some artists. But those are side-issues for this post. I'm interested in a passage I read in Vollard's book Reflections of a Picture Dealer (Souveniers d'un marchard de tableau). The book (1936 English translation by Violet M. MacDonald -- cast in a sometimes mid-30s-slangy Brit tone that might or might not have captured the sense of the original) is an interesting mélange of this 'n' that which included the following (pp. 230-31 of the Dover edition): For painting is not stationary, it cannot escape the urge to renewal, the incessant evolution that manifests itself in every form of art. At the same time it may be said with truth that each of these forms reacts upon the others, with sometimes one, sometimes another predominating, providing the impulse in some fresh direction. As a rule, literature heads the movement, furnishing at once the theory and the example from which music and the plastic arts draw draw their inspiration. But the period of which I am speaking [1894, when he opened his rue Laffitte gallery], music had taken the lead. And what is music? A sort of incantation. It does not define. It does not aim at direct demonstration or description. It captivates precisely by its flowing, vaporous, indeterminate qualities. It feeds at the sources of mystery, on myths, on legends; and with what it borrows from these it creates moods, an atmosphere propitious to passion or reverie. Under its influence, and by way of reaction against the brutalities of realism on the one hand, and cold Parnassian perfection on the other, the writers, and the poets especially, were attempting to capture the almost immaterial charm that resides in the vagueness of the subject. They were endeavoring to induce the same moods, the same enthusiasm, the same transports of sensibility into which they were thrown in moments of musical exaltation. They would no longer describe, they would evoke. They would not state precisely, but suggest. The poet would consider it his mission merely to open up vistas. The poem was to prolong itself in the free and emotional meditation of the reader. The fascination exercised by Wagner's work thus gave rise to the esoterism of Mallarmé, and the "music before all things" of Verlaine. It was the symbolic epoch. In the plastic arts, and particularly painting, the same influence was at work, an influence undergone directly by some, but propagated for the most part through the media of literature and criticism. Vollard was a smarter cookie than I am, plus he was on the spot. Even so,... posted by Donald at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Monday, March 12, 2007


Arthur Mathews -- California's Best Artist?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I saw the show almost by accident. You see, I bought the book months ago so it slipped my mind that it was associated with the show and I also forgot when the show was taking place. By chance, we had to kill some time before Nancy's daughter-in-law's birthday party Sunday, so I thought we should go to the Oakland Museum of California because I knew that it had a collection of California Impressionist paintings. But its Web page reminded me that California As Muse: The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews was still on (it stared October 28th and ends March 25th). I found the show fabulous and regret that I failed to see it sooner and didn't give California Blowhards readers a timely heads-up to go see it. (A good many of Arthur and Lucia Mathews' works are in the Oakland Museum's collection, along with paintings by California Impressionists. Unfortunately, the museum normally doesn't seem to devote much viewing space to these works, which is why the special exhibit is especially important.) Arthur F. Mathews (1860-1945) was, in my judgment, the best California artist of the pre-Modern era and one of the very best ever. Certainly he was top dog in the Bay Area from the 1890s to around 1920. For many years he was in charge of the San Francisco School of Design. Later, he and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews operated an Arts & Crafts firm, the Furniture Store that built Art Nouveau and A&C furniture and picture frames for an affluent clientele. Many paintings in the show are framed by the Furniture Company and are works of art in themselves. He also was extensively involved with mural painting in important public buildings; his architectural background was probably of use in this. Mathews was trained in architecture for a while (relatives were in the trade) but then switched to painting at the School of Design. From 1884-89 he studied in Paris at (for Americans, where else?) the Académie Julian. The show included some early paintings with a decidedly Academic tinge, but within a few years of his return he had evolved his flat, muralistic style featuring colors partly neutralized by their complements. Below are some examples of Mathews' work. Unfortunately, image pickings on the Internet are still slim so what you see isn't as good as it should be. My advice is to look for the show-related book linked above at a Borders, Barnes & Noble, museum bookstore or wherever you can find halfway decent selections of art books. It's available in both hardcover and paperback -- same size, different binding. Gallery Youth (circa 1917) Mathews painted many pictures of women dancing. To the general public, these probably represent his "signature" pieces, and this picture is on the cover of the book/catalog linked above. Such dancing (think Isadora Duncan) was popular during the first quarter of the 20th century. If you can, take a look at some college yearbooks from... posted by Donald at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Friday, March 2, 2007


False Fronts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- O, th' agony inflicted by architecture! We Blowhards aren't shy about voicing the pain inflicted on the general public by starchitects and hacks alike in the form of eyesores that persist for half a human life-span or longer. What we haven't been doing is empathizing with the visual pains those self-same architects endure when going about the streets and freeways of 2007 America. The poor dears have to look at buildings that are mostly antithetical to the ideals they absorbed during their training. They see garishness and blatant commercialism and [sob] form not following function. We get to see those same things, of course. But, aside from diehards whose minds spin to the sounds of anti-suburban folk-songs of the Fifties, most of us take it in stride -- if not with enthusiasm. What in the world am I talking about? Why, those false-fronts tacked onto strip-mall and big-box store shopping area structures. 'Twasn't always so. When I was growing up and into middle age (mid 40s to the 70s or thereabouts), false fronts on stores were almost unheard-of. The only places I saw them were in cowboy movies, ghost-towns, and places drifting in that direction. In other words, to me false fronts were indicative of really old-fashioned stuff. Virginia City, Montana scene The post-World War 2 retail structures I experienced were mostly simple, architecturally. No ornament aside from the obligatory signs. Basically cheap-to-build structures in a watered-down International Style idiom: clean-looking, but boring. This changed gradually over the last 20 or so years (can a reader pinpoint when it started?). Where once there was a clean cornice-line one began to see false gables and architectural embellishments from previous centuries cribbed and re-proportioned and constructed about a foot in depth. Some of this was on newly built strip-malls, the rest was retrofitted. It has come to the point where clean-lined malls are no longer being built. Old-style strip mall Stores unoccupied when the photo was taken. New-style strip mall Again, the stores are not occupied. Then there are free-standing stores. Just for the heck of it, here are some photos showing how Safeway supermarkets have evolved over the last half-century. Safeway in Seattle's Lake City district, opened 1956. Or thereabouts. I worked there for 2-3 days during the store-opening surge. It had natural red brick then along with the Safeway signs of the day. Safeway moved out decades ago. Note the clean-line style. Bellevue Safeway, circa 1970 I'm not sure when this store was built, but it was quite a while ago. I took this picture yesterday to record it before it gets demolished. That will happen fairly soon, once a new store a block or so away is completed. Its architecture is still in the "functional" mode, though clean-lining is modified by the (functional) arching of the roof. University Village-area Safeway re-habbed circa 2005 Although not a new structure, this Safeway was renovated and contemporary false-front type detailing added to the facade. Did I... posted by Donald at March 2, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments





Thursday, March 1, 2007


Apatoff on Illustration
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We Blowhards might not be jacks (some might prefer "jerks") of all trades, but each of us covers more than one waterfront (man, does that last phrase ever date me!). Michael's main beats include movies, book & other media biz, literature, architecture, immigration news and The New York Scene. Among other subjects he's been known to write about are economics, yoga and even sex. His college chum Friedrich specializes in history -- art history in particular -- yet from time to time drops in with solid essays on topics that seem out of synch with the serious persona he often projects here: an article featuring girlie pin-up artist Gil Elvgren comes to mind. And me? Just the usual adolescent drivel about cars and planes along with an interminable series of articles about painters no one with conventional college art-historical knowledge ever heard of. Sometimes I even write about the illustration sub-field of commercial art. I'm very much interested in the subject and really ought to write about it more. But why should I bother when you can always check out David Apatoff's Illustration Art blog. That's because David specializes, unlike we eternal amateurs and arts buffs. As I write this, David's latest post deals with comic book artists who, in his judgment, came up a bit short in the skills department yet produced stuff he finds enjoyable. He comments: I find it is much easier to accept mediocre art when it is unpretentious. Artists such as [Wallace] Wood and [Will] Eisner toiled for decades pouring creativity onto cheap pulp paper. They were under appreciated and underpaid. By contrast, their modern counterparts found early fame and are lauded in deluxe coffee table books from the Smithsonian Institution filled with gushing self-congratulatory prose about how the new generation has elevated the medium... I also like Wood and Eisner and rate their talent higher than David does (Eisner took drawing courses from George Bridgman, after all, and some of it seemed to rub off on him). Plus remember that these guys were cranking out reams of comics, for heaven's sake, and can't fairly be compared to "pure" illustrators such as John LaGatta or Coby Whitmore -- and Apatoff does not make any such explicit comparison. BTW, I'm inclined to agree with the thrust of the above quote. Another article takes on The New York Times' suddend embrace of comics. After listing a number of talented artists the Times ignored in past decades, he observes: The Times seems to have been duped by the currently fashionable "I'm-so-smart-I don't-have-to-draw-well" genre. Many popular comic artists explain that the quality of their drawings is not important except to move the narrative forward. To me, such an art form is closer to typography than comic art. It shrinks from the potential of a combined words-and-pictures medium. Har! Great fun! As one great blogger sage puts it, read the whole thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 1, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments




Our Shared and Planned Future
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you want an EZ taste of what our betters have in store for us where architecture and urbanism are concerned, you could do worse than to read this Der Spiegel piece about HafenCity, a huge harborsite development currently under construction in Hamburg. Here's a photo tour of the place. Short MBlowhard verdict: It looks like a daffy, off-kilter, computer simulation of a neighborhood, or maybe a videogame version of a city. Does it look like a place where you'd like to live? Best, Michael UPDATE: Edward Glaeser argues that "Modernism has its place in the panoply of architectural styles, and it is particularly appropriate for large buildings in megacities. It is not well designed for building public buildings or monuments that speak to most people." (Link thanks to ALD.)... posted by Michael at March 1, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Portraits and Modernism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A theme I've been edging up to and that I plan to pursue from time to time in the coming months is the question of the future of painting assuming that Modernism and its spawn prove to be an aberration in the long-term history of art. The validity of that assumption can be left for discussion at another time (are you there, Friedrich?). For now, I simply want to use it as a peg for a series of blog posts. One way of examining this is to look at subject-matter that is comparatively impervious to Modernism and see how artists have been dealing with it. Today I'll take a first pass at portrait painting, perhaps returning later to hit the subject from another angle. Portraiture can be analyzed in terms of whether or not a particular painting was commissioned and, if commissioned, by whom -- the subject or by an organization or some other funding source. It seems to me that portraits most subject to Modernist influence would be those done strictly at the volition of the artist. The least amount of Modernism is likely to be found in portraits commissioned by the subject or perhaps "official" portraits commissioned by governments or businesses. Other commission sources likely fall someplace between, though probably tending to the non-Modernist end of the spectrum. (I posted on Presidential portraits here.) Here's a selective overview. All or nearly all of the paintings shown were not commissioned and present the artist's free-choice side of the typology just presented. Gallery Let's skip Van Dyck, Reynolds and Sargent on the assumption that you're familiar with traditional portraiture in its various guises, and cut straight to Modernism. "Nude in an Armchair - Fernande Olivier" by Pablo Picasso - 1909 The subject of this early Cubist work is Pacasso's mistress. One would be hard-pressed to identify her in a police lineup if this was your only clue. Still, she's recognizably female. "Daniel Henry Kahnweiler" by Pablo Picasso - 1910 The following year, Picasso painted Kahnweiler, his dealer at the time. I don't know if this was commissioned or not. The point of showing it is that a viewer ignorant of Kahnweiler's actual appearance would have no idea what the man looked like on the basis of Picasso's "portrait." That last word was in quotes because the work is clearly beyond portraiture as it has been known and continues to be known. Picasso asserted that this is a portrait: some will accept it on his authority, I do not. "Tadeusz de Lempicka" by Tamara de Lempicka - 1928 Tamara de Lempicka has become known as the archetypical Art Deco painter. This is an unfinished portrait of her first husband (his left hand still needs work). Although stereotyped to 3-D geometrical underpinnings, one has a fairly good idea what Tadeusz looked like. "The Prisoners Sacco and Vanzetti" by Ben Shahn - 1931-32 Some would call this Expressionist -- after all, Shahn was never shy about expressing... posted by Donald at February 27, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments





Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Easy Motoring Always and Everywhere?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When traffic-safety rules and aesthetics come into conflict, how to rule? Right Reason's Lydia McGrew and I treat ourselves to a fencing match. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Monday, February 19, 2007


Recent Reading
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I envy Friedrich von Blowhard. More specifically, I envy his wide knowledge of history and, especially, the history of art. Maybe his Lousy Ivy Education wasn't quite as lousy as had been suggested. Or perhaps he has spent the years since then reading voraciously. I suspect it's the latter. On the other hand, I've been playing catch-up ball -- especially since I started writing for this blog. I've read a lot of history over the years, much of it military history. Military history can't easily be separated from political history, so I know something of that. As for cultural and social history, I'm mostly familiar with France, Britain and the U.S.A. A few years ago I began to analyze how I seemed to learn history best. I recalled that when I was around 20, I would read comprehensive histories of Egypt, France and Russia and afterwards have no real sense of what I had just read. Pharaohs, kings and emperors were mostly a blur. I found that I was more successful when I selected key historical periods, comprehended them, and later filled in the gaps. In the case of France since 1500, say, useful entry points were the reigns of François I, Henri IV, Louis XIII (and Richelieu), Louis XIV, Napoleon I and Napoleon III. And so it has been for art history. I was already somewhat familiar with the period 1915-55. But I realized that previous 40 years were more important for my analytical purposes and knew that I hadn't paid as much attention to the Impressionists as I should have. Worse, I knew next to nothing about their contemporaries who had been ignored or slighted in my art history classes -- academic painters, the Pre-Raphaelites, and so forth. Now that I'm getting 1875-1915 under better control, I'm beginning to study some artists who influenced that period. I've already read some books about Velásquez. And I'm starting to learn more about Courbet. I just finished reading this book on the history of art as related to artists' paints from the perspective of a chemist / physicist. I have to take the scientific bits on faith, never having taken a single chemistry class (though my father had a degree in Chemical Engineering). Still, it was interesting to get a better understanding of what artists had to deal with before the 19th century technical revolution in the area of synthetic colors. It's kind of amazing that they were able to do as well as they did, considering the limitations of their palettes. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 19, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Real Beauty?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to make of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty"? Virginia Postrel writes in the Atlantic that we shouldn't be afaid of, or lie about, beauty. She expands on her article at her blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 14, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments




Taste and Aesthetics: Gay or Not-Gay?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve and some others have me thinking about a perennial puzzler: Why do so many American males consider arty and aesthetic matters to be faggy? To get something quickly out of the way: Of course there are in fact a lot of gayguys in the artier fields. I suppose this is a bit of a disincentive for straightguys. But how much does this really explain about the vehemence with which many American males dodge aesthetic questions? Despite the gifts many gay men have shown where aesthetics are concerned, a talent for questions of taste, style, and expression obviously doesn't depend on straightness or gayness. After all, in many other cultures straight guys don't make it a principle to avoid aesthetic matters. Many straight Italian men love (and have a flair for) opera, food, fabrics, and design. Straight Russian men don't consider ballet -- let alone emotionality and expressiveness more generally -- to be strictly for the pansies. Straight Frenchmen are as particular as can be about questions of taste: as La Coquette once wrote, only in France would you overhear five year old boys explaining to their grandma how she should really be preparing the asparagus. Even in the States: Many straight black men are virtuosos of style, dancing, flirtation, and seduction. And let's face it: There are strong reasons why straight men ought to engage with aesthetic matters. One: It's fun and rewarding. Two: Chicks dig guys who show some appreciation for beauty, pleasure, and taste. My theory about this: Chicks feel that the man who demonstrates some knowledge of, receptivity to, and enthusiasm for arty matters is someone who's likely to appreciate the full range of what a woman can be. Art=Woman, sorta. I agree with this view myself, btw. If you can cook or play music -- even if you can merely discuss movies, books, and paintings articulately -- scoring with the ladies becomes much easier. Scoring in fact follows almost as a matter of course: Some shared arty pleasure ... Some flirtatious-appreciative flirtation / discussion ... Some connecting on aesthetic grounds ... And before you know it you're all tangled up with each other in the most delightful way. In cases like this one, what would be the point of distinguishing the aesthetic from the sexual rewards? It's about giving as well as taking, and it's all terrific. As one of Steve's correspondents wrote, it's pretty rich the way American guys consider dance, museums, and design -- all of them activities where many great gals will be found, as well as activities that make men more attractive to gals -- to be for da fags, while we consider hanging out with other guys while watching muscular dudes in tight clothes bash into each other and slap each others' butts (ie., watching sports with our buds) to be the essence of brawny straightness. Where does this aversion to aesthetics come from, historically speaking? My hunch is that it has less to... posted by Michael at February 14, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments




Emerging Tastes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As power continues to slip from the hands of the media-and-art taste-dictators, what will emerge to take its place? An ever-expanding database of self-pleasing niche tastes? A roiling miasma of impossible-to-wade-through, glitzy crapola? A more flexible and service-oriented hierarchy than the absurd house of cards that's been imposed on us through recent decades? Or perhaps all that and more? Me, I'm making the safe bet and gambling on the last possibility. My mind was sent off on this little joyride by a Brook Mason piece for the New York Sun. Mason reports that one of the hottest art genres in the auction-house world is dog art. Paintings, porcelains, and sculptures depicting pooches are hotter than ever; catalogues and books featuring the stuff are being published; and serious collectors of dog art have emerged. A couple of interesting info-kibbles from Mason's good piece: According to one dealer, "portrayals of pointers, setters, and pugs command the highest prices"; and commissions for new portraits of pet dogs can run as high as $35,000. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 14, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, February 12, 2007


Recent Presidential Portraits Are Mediocre?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some people think the United States has been going to hell since Washington's time. That's nothing new. But now there's a new wrinkle. Not long ago in the Wall Street Journal, Catesby Leigh penned this article asserting that the same thing has been happening regarding presidential portraits. Leigh noticed that following President Ford's death, the Washington Post used Everett Raymond Kinstler's portrait as its illustration. Think of presidential portraits and the first that comes to mind is most likely Gilbert Stuart's iconic George Washington, possibly followed by John Singer Sargent's very differently conceived Theodore Roosevelt. Though technically at least as competent as the general run of portraits of postwar presidents in the gallery and the White House, this work by Mr. Kinstler--painted in 1987, a decade after the artist's prominently displayed White House portrait of the same president--is a far cry from Stuart's or Sargent's achievements. Leigh then goes on to compare Kinstler's painting to "a touched-up photograph." It operates at the factual, prosaic level. Absent are poetic evocations of character, such as the virtues required to shoulder the burdens of the presidential office, let alone any symbolic indications of the ties that link Ford to the nation's ideals and destiny. Mr. Kinstler's Ford is just a likeable, smiling, aging hunk of a guy standing next to a table. Gilbert Stuart's 1796 "Landsdowne" portrait of Washington, on the other hand, is richly symbolic, harkening to classical times. The Landsdowne Washington is situated in a pictorially and symbolically complex setting. He is situated, in other words, within the grand tradition of European portraiture. Behind him columns--emblems of order--are arranged on a diagonal, as are a chair and draped table. Symbols of republican principles and ideals, ranging from leather-bound tomes to an exposed table leg in the form of the Roman fasces, abound. Washington loosely grasps the sword of victory in his left hand while beckoning with his right, creating a certain visual tension as he turns slightly to align himself with the dominant diagonal. He beckons not to us but to the future, to an era of promise opened by the constitutional covenant, itself evoked by the rainbow in the background. Hanging folds of rich fabric intensify the aura of grandeur. Sargent's TR has an essentially blank background, but the absence of symbolism is compensated by the portrayal of the sitter's character. Leigh goes on to lament about the quality of Presidential portraits of recent decades. What should be done? Presidential portraiture should bind the national leaders of our time and of times to come to their predecessors, rather than forcing a chasm between past and present. A presidential portrait need not remind you of George Washington--after all, a variety of character types have shown themselves equal to the office--but it should be an inspiring image. Accordingly, the portraitist should also consider incorporating his subject into a pictorially and symbolically complex setting that evokes an enduring national heritage of liberty. This did not sit well... posted by Donald at February 12, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments





Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Elitist Architects vs. The Rest of Us
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's Wall Street Journal's Marketplace section has a front-page article dealing with results of a recent American Institute of Architects survey of the general public's taste in architecture. The article's "hook" was that the Bellagio hotel/casino in Las Vegas was 22nd in the favoritism ranking, astonishing some architects who are not exactly fond of it. "The Bellagio is tasteless," according to Edward Feiner of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Washington, DC office. The Harris Interactive polling firm surveyed 2,000 Americans, presenting them with photos of "247 buildings nominated by 2,500 architects in various categories." From the results a ranked listing of the favorite 150 was unveiled, the number 150 chosen because the AIA is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. One reason for the survey was that the AIA wanted to "get a dialog going with the American people." (The AIA Web page referenced in the article is here. In the fine print is a "news" item mentioning the survey; I clicked on it but the link failed. Perhaps your luck will be better.) The article points out that, aside from the Bellagio, no building constructed in the last 10 years made the list's top 30 and of the top 20, only two were built in the last 35 years. The favorite was the Empire State Building, followed by the White House, the National Cathedral, the Jefferson Memorial, the Golden Gate Bridge (apparently it counted as architecture), the U.S. Capitol, the North Carolina Biltmore Estate, the Chrysler Building and the Vietnam Memorial. Feiner pointed out that sentiment and familiarity might have over-ridden aesthetic judgment. While that's likely in some cases, I don't think it negates the fact that the public doesn't seemed to have warmed to architecture of the various Modernist schools. Another tidbit: Some architects are more dismissive. Mark Robbins, dean of architecture at Syracuse University, says the survey "reinforces one's sense that the general public's knowledge of architecture is still limited to things that have columns or have a lot of colored lights." He says the list reminds him a the Zagat guides to restaurants, which rely on customer submissions. "It's only as good as the people who send in reviews. When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, Applebee's was in Zagat's." Architect Richard Meier (who had five buildings on the list) said "many of these things on the list are places people go and enjoy themselves, but I wouldn't consider them works of architecture." He also wondered why buildings such as Van der Rohe's Seagram Building and Johnson's New Caanan, CT house didn't make the final cut. Best line of the article: "Some in the architectural establishment -- whose favorite building is often said to be an ivory tower..." My hope is that architects will finally stop dismissing the public as a bunch of yahoos (lord knows they've been doing so for as long as I can remember) and start to ponder why their buildings are disliked or even hated. Mainstream media... posted by Donald at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments





Friday, February 2, 2007


Art and Entertainment, Or Maybe Art Vs. Entertainment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I ran across this YouTube video showing a talented draftsman making drawings of various YouTube personalities. Fun drawings, fun watching the guy draw. And a fun concept, too: treating YouTube personalities as people-worthy-of-portraits, and then making his own product be 1) the process of drawing, and not just on-paper but as-videotaped; and 2) the YouTube broadcast of the process of drawing. That's a niftier bit of conceptual art than anything I've run across in a gallery recently. But was it even intended as such? Double-fun! I enthusiastically emailed a link to the video to FvB, who wrote me back this email: It is a cool idea. And his stuff is pretty interesting. I just spent a couple hours in a bookstore looking at a big art book on Italian fresco series of the High Renaissance-Mannerist era. Quite entertaining stuff from some people who don't have the biggest reps: Domenico Beccafumi , Il Pordenone, Pellegrino Tibaldi, etc. What intrigues me about it, I think, is that it's technically all about the drawing, and boy were these guys swaggering draftsmen. It wasn't mere realism, although clearly they could have been accomplished realists if they had wanted to go in that direction. It was about "figurative art" -- the nude in action, stylized, anatomized, exaggerated, but always with a sort of goofy energy and lotsa style. They don't have Michelangelo's depth, but they were surely highly skilled entertainers. And, as I saw a year-and-a-half ago in Florence, even slightly goofy stuff can knock your socks off when it covers hundreds of square feet up on a wall -- part of the oddity you get when you look at a book-size reproduction goes away when you see the work full scale and in situ. Always something to be said for entertainment, no? Which got me babbling back to FvB about art vs. entertainment thusly: The aversion that high-minded people have to entertainment always amazes me. Sniff, sniff -- it isn't aaaaaaart. Screw 'em. If I didn't have a weak spot for art myself I'd probably confine my activities (consuming and producing) to entertainment. At least showbiz people like money and sex and glitz. At least they have a sense that (as an actor friend of mine likes to say) they have to "sing for their supper." Art people on the other hand find all that ... well, embarassing. Painful. Humiliating. I kinda like the rough-and-ready, extraverted stuff myself. And I certainly like it much better than sitting around bitching about how vulgar the world is. As for the YouTube video -- I wonder if this combining-drawing-with-video thing is becoming or already has become a kind of genre of its own. I hope so! I love the lightly-edited videoclip thing generally: a dude and his buds practicing hoops, girls doing webcam stuff, kitty videos, that guy who plays songs by squeezing his palms together ... It's casual, anyone can turn a videocam on, and everyone seems to be doing... posted by Michael at February 2, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Sorolla: Workaholic Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe being a Spaniard had something to do with it. No artist-as-genius posturing from Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923). The man some regard as Spain's greatest painter since Velázquez (others might peg Goya as the previous reference point) was a family-oriented, bourgeois (in the best sense) workaholic whose burn-out took the form of a stroke at age 57 and death three years later. Showy, publicly-egotistical artists were a 20th century commonplace and also could be found in the late 19th century as artists completed their Western social evolution from craftsmen to Independent Geniuses. For example, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), a generation older than Sorolla, played the new rôle to the hilt. Nevertheless, most artists were cautious, pre-1900. The ideal career path led from training at a reputable academy to winning prizes allowing a few years' study in Italy soaking in the masters to getting works hung in Academy displays to making contacts with people rich enough to commission portraits -- a painter's most reliable meal-ticket. Separated from mainstream artistic, cultural and political Europe by the Pyrenees and western Mediterranean, Spain was a conservative place well into the 20th century. Flamboyant Spanish artists such as Picasso and Dalí made their reputations in France rather than in their homeland. Aside from student years in Italy and business-related trips plus the occasional vacation, Sorolla dwelled in Spain his entire life. A fine new Sorolla biography by his great-grand-daughter Blanca Pons-Sorolla is a good place to familiarize yourself with the artist. I used it and an earlier (out-of-print) book by Edmund Peel containing an essay by grandson Francisco Pons Sorolla as source material for this post. Fortunately for art historians and Sorolla devotees, Sorolla left a considerable paper-trail in the form of letters to his beloved wife Clotilde who, unlike other spouses of the famous, saved rather than burned the correspondence. Since Clotilde's job was maintaining the household and raising their three children, she remained in Madrid, aside from family trips to the seashore, while Sorolla was away in various parts of Spain painting plein-air, his preferred method. And while away, he wrote his wife as often as he could, describing the sights that inspired him, telling her how much he missed her and, in the half-dozen or so years before his stroke, expressing worries about his health and stamina. The book includes many snippets from those letters. Sorolla was born in Valencia, which remained his favorite part of Spain. Orphaned before his third birthday, he was adopted by his mother's sister. He began formal art instruction as a teenager and began to win prizes before turning 20. By the time he was turning 22 he had been awarded a study grant and was off to Rome and elsewhere in Italy for the next four years with interruptions for visits to Paris and home. On one visit home he married Clotilde García del Castillo, daughter of photographer Antonio García Peris, Sorolla's patron while in his late teens. Sorolla... posted by Donald at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments




Molly and John
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can we call 'em or what? Long ago 2Blowhards featured irregular bulletins from the young artists John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple. John wrote about art-school shenanigans and sillinesses, while Molly told tales about her day job as an artist's model. So it's fun to see that John and Molly -- close buds, btw, in addition to being gifted and mischievous artists and writers -- haven't confined their activities to the blogosphere. Instead, they're entrepreneurial dynamos who have taken their acts on to bigger venues. Let's hear it for resourceful, cheeky, and open-minded kids. Have you read about Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School? Molly and John reacted to conventional figure-drawing classes as students often do, thinking "Wow, nude models! This is hot! Why's everyone pretending it isn't?" But instead of shrugging the question off, Molly and John kicked off their own monthly, open-to-the-public session that plays up the sexiness of the figure-drawing experience. They do this mainly by employing neo-burlesque artistes as models -- gotta love the stage names: Clams Casino, Little Brooklyn ... -- encouraging irreverence, laughter, and conviviality, and setting the hours spent drawing to funky music mixes. Figure-drawing sessions don't get more alternative than Dr. Sketchy's. Molly and John have had themselves a big hit. Dr. Sketchy events take place regularly in NYC, are popping up in Detroit, L.A., San Francisco, and have even started to crackle in Melbourne and Scotland too. And recently Molly and John have even turned their Dr. Sketchy concept into a book. You can read about it here, and buy it here and here. Check out the enthusiastic customer reviews on the book's Amazon page! Here's Molly's website. Here's John's. You can read Molly's columns for 2Blowhards here, here, here, here, and here. John wrote for us here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Here's the very lively Dr. Sketchy blog. Here's a New York Press article about the Dr. Sketchy phenomenon. Here's a videoclip from a Dr. Sketchy's event. Molly and John celebrate the publication of their book at the great NYC comic book store Jim Hanley's Universe. Those in the mood for a daydreamy few minutes should enjoy gazing on this page of modeling photos of the lovely and graceful Miss Molly. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (0)

Monday, January 22, 2007


Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- While the title of this post is "Blogging Note" the subject is more of a bleg. (For those of you lucky enough not to have encountered that word yet, "bleg" is cutesy blog-speak for begging for information via a blog.) From time to time such as here I mention a Modernist-centered art-history narrative that originated at the Museum of Modern Art. It was pretty close to what I was taught in art history classes back in the late 50s, and I still find it hard to shake the concepts fed to me when I was 19 or so. The course, once it departed the Middle Ages, became a who-invented-this-first narrative akin to Biblical "begats" with the begatting ending once art emerged from the sludge of academism and realism to reach the shining heights of Pure Abstraction. Now to confess sloth and ignorance. Because I find Post-Modern art generally not very interesting (there are exceptions), I don't bother to study it nearly as much as I do other art. My impression is that the historical "thrust" posited in the MoMA narrative shattered into a collection of mini-movements fueled by painters and sculptors desperately trying to be innovative. Although I did buy a book that attempted to list the noteworthy movements from the 19th century to the 21st, I'm still semi-clueless regarding the "narrative" angle. What I would like is for some of you to pass along references to any historical narratives that cover the period since 1960 or thereabouts. Especially welcome would be a narrative that proposes "thrust" rather than the apparent chaos of the mini-movements. And apologies if you mentioned such narratives in comments to previous posts -- please pass along the info again. Why? Because, after months of fruitless head-scratching, a possibly viable concept of a non-Modernist narrative just popped into my head. Something blindingly simple. So simple that it might be simple-minded. In any case, I'm ready to do some work on this to see if I can come up with anything worth posting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 22, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Thursday, January 18, 2007


Stacked
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I noted some similarities between an expensive blender the Wife and I had just bought and a trendy new building. Wittily, or so I hoped, I proposed referring to this new style of building as "high-end kitchen-appliance architecture." Out for a walk in the East Village the other day, I noticed this godawful thing under construction: Glass ... Steel ... Grids .... The East Village ... In other words, stack-it-up Modernism is what contemporary architecture sees fit to contribute to the lowrise neighborhood whose hominess, eccentricity, human scale, and living texture were celebrated by the great Jane Jacobs. Yet, bizarrely, the architecture profession regularly claims to have learned Jane Jacobs' lessons. Hmm. A bit of info for those who haven't yet stumbled across it: Modernism is on the offensive once again. Oh, perhaps you thought that the style had finally received its well-deserved stake in the heart? No such luck. These days, glassy cubey things barely distinguishable from the U.N. are going up all over New York City. How about our well-founded worries that this kind of building will have the same alienating and destructive effects that it had the last time around? Y'know, like in the '50s and '60s, when neighborhoods went to hell and people left cities in droves. Not to worry! The New Modernism isn't the same authoritarian thing at all! No, this time around it's cool, it's fun. Why, don't you know that the chic people now consider Modernism to be nothing but a kicky retro historical style in its own right? Which means that it isn't a disaster and a landmine. No, now it's a toy! We get to play with it and mix and match it just as we do every other style! Whee! Now let's get on with destroying another neighborhood! Er, I meant, Now let's get on with celebrating diversity! You can call me a sourpus, but I'm not joining this party. Hearing these sales pitches, er, rationales is something I find analogous to listening to some New Marxists arguing, "Dude, chill, it's just in fun! What's the big deal? What's the point in getting worked-up about it?" Er, fellas: Not that long ago we gave Modernism a serious try. It didn't work out real well. In fact, Modernism may have been the single most misguided and destructive movement in the history of architecture and urbanism. Modernism's champions have been so successful in re-branding their beloved style that they have even persuaded the National Trust for Historic Preservation to get on board their bandwagon. Now, I think it's safe to say that the National Trust is an outfit that many people join quite specifically as a way of protesting Modernism and what Modernism has done to our towns, cities, and landscapes. Nonetheless, recent articles in Preservation, the Trust's generally good magazine, have approvingly celebrated dreary old glass boxes, and even such widely-loathed Modernist horrors as Brutalism. The people behind the New Modernism are the... posted by Michael at January 18, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Nasty Artist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As an ex-skiier on a skiing vacation, I have plenty of time on my hands. One use I'm making of that time is catching up on my reading. I just finished this biography of painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). The book had been laying around half-read for a number of months, and it was my first crack at learning about Whistler's life. My sluggish process of acquisition and reading likely stems from an ambivalent take on his art: I don't really dislike it, but I'm not really enthusiastic about it either. But I'll save that matter for another time. What the book repeatedly had to deal with was Whistler's tendency to turn on friends and associates, surprisingly often in the form of litigation. By his lights he was often simply defending the rights of an artist as he saw them. Among those he turned on were: Sir Francis Haden, husband of Whistler's half-sister; one-time studio assistants Walter Greaves and Walter Sickert; author and playwright Oscar Wilde; and Thomas Way, his long-time lithographer. And he sued art theorist John Ruskin, who was not in his circle. Some of Whistler's spitefulness would simply take the form of a cry of "betrayal!" regarding some greater or lesser slight, followed by ostracizing the wretch who crossed him. At the other extreme were the lawsuits. In the middle range were public squabbles in the form of letters to newspapers, journals and other publications. Over the course of his 69 years and one week of life, only a few failed to enter Whistler's sh*t list. Those included French writer Stéphane Mallarmée, painter Claude Monet, collector Charles Lang Freer and various members of his wife's family (sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip became his heir and executrix). No doubt a few instances of Whistler's public touchiness might have been related to self-publicity in the new age of mass-media. But his flare-ups were so continual it's hard not to believe that his personality was fundamentally testy. The book didn't mention other important artists who were as nasty as Whistler, and I haven't attempted to do the research. Perhaps Friedrich and art history buff readers can offer pre-20th century candidates. I do know that other important English-based artists of his era were comparatively mild-mannered, examples being John Singer Sargent, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadama, Sir John Millais, Lord Leighton and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. If the book is any guide, Whistler's temperament did him more harm than good. But there are lots of books about him, and some of them might lead the reader to the opposite conclusion. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 16, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments





Wednesday, January 10, 2007


The Invisible Hand Is Back
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now here's how architecture criticism ought to be written! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments




Eeeek
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enjoy some heart-stopping photos of the most dangerous roads in the world. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments





Sunday, January 7, 2007


Yet Another Vienna 1900
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Try it. Link to Amazon.com, select Books and then the "advanced search" tool. Once there, type Vienna 1900 into the "Title" edit box and click the "Search now" button. I got 37 hits a minute ago, the top one being this . Vienna 1900: Art, Life & Culture edited by Christian Brandstatter. (German language purists should note that the second "a" in Brandstatter actually carries an umlaut. I didn't write it "Brandstaetter" because American search tools are likely to recognize only the simple "a.") I bought a copy recently, even though I already have several books on the subject. Why did I blow money on something similar to what I already have? Mostly because the book seemed well-illustrated, particularly by photographs I wasn't familiar with. It treated (briefly, admittedly) a spectrum of subjects, including: Jugendstil and Symbolism, The Secession, The Klimt Group, The Artist-Designed Dress, Furniture, The Wagner School, Theater and Cabaret, Music, Philosophy and Science, The Secret of Dreams (concerning Freud) and a number of other topics including individual artists such as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. Clearly the "team of Austrian and German historians, critics, and writers" (so says the jacket blurb) assembled by the editor didn't have room to do more than hint at their subjects, given the amount of space devoted to illustrations. But those hints were useful starting points for unfamiliar topics. I haven't read the entire book yet, but let me mention a couple of quibbles. One is that there was no obvious identification for the contributors aside from their names, none of which mean anything to me. My second quibble is that Marian Bisanz-Prakken, in her article on Gustav Klimt, botched his birth date, calling it 1848 rather than 1863. And why are there so many books dealing with Vienna and the period around 1900? Because there truly was a lot of important artistic and intellectual activity at that time and place. This wasn't clear for a long time so far as painting was concerned, mostly because Klimt and the others didn't neatly fit the standard art history narrative developed by champions of Modernism. As a matter of fact, I hadn't even heard of Klimt until I read Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siecle Vienna in the early 1980s. (My excuses are (1) Klimt wasn't mentioned in my college art history course and (2) I was focused on demography and computer programming for many years.) The period centered near 1900 is pivotal for most major arts because Modernism in its various forms was emerging. True, folks tend to seize round-numbered years as focus points, but 1900 truly was one, provided that one really means the 10 or 20 years that straddle it -- one sees comparatively little about art in 1800 or 1700, for instance. Unlike Friedrich von Blowhard, I feel uncomfortable with Grand Theory so far as art is concerned. I hesitate to relate artistic trends to, say, trends on economic or religious beliefs or practices. Nevertheless, I seem... posted by Donald at January 7, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Thursday, January 4, 2007


Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few visuals to kick this posting off: And something I wish I had a visual for but, well, it would have been awkward: Over the holidays, I noticed two pre-adolescent girls who -- in the company of adults giving every indication of being their parents -- were wearing stretchy-glittery terry workout clothes. Victoria's Secret leisure-wear, basically. Across the butt of one girl was stitched the word "Juicy." Across the butt of the other girl was stitched the word "Pink." (Note to oldies not in the fashion know: I'm pretty sure that "Juicy" refers to a popular girls' fashion outfit called Juicy Couture. It also, of course, suggests "ripe and appetizing." Note to youngsters who didn't live through the '70s and '80s: the word "Pink" can make oldies give a start because the word was once used to signify hardcore, or near-hardcore, pornography. An extreme sex magazine didn't show pictures of girls who were just naked. It "showed pink" -- ie., it displayed images of exposed vaginas and anuses.) Looking at these two girls, I had -- I confess it -- a brief moment when I found myself thinking about their pre-pubescent butts in sexual terms. Which is bizarre, because I've never had the slightest sexual interest in pre-pubescent girls. But with all those hotsy signifiers a-glow -- St. Tropez fabrics, look-at-me buttpatches, provocative words -- perhaps it wasn't really that bizarre. With "Juicy" and "Pink" twinkling at me, how could the carnal part of my mind not switch on? Repeat after me: What were their parents thinking? Speaking of which ... The New York Times' Lawrence Downes recently attended a middle-school talent show. (Link thanks to Rod Dreher.) And what Downes found himself witnessing were 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls doing half-clad, gyrating, booty-shaking imitations of the lascivious dancers in rock videos. Downes writes: What surprised me, though, was how completely parents of even younger girls seem to have gotten in step with society's march toward eroticized adolescence -- either willingly or through abject surrender. And if parents give up, what can a school do? The discussion topic I'm proposing is obvious, I hope: What do we make of how trashy, flashy, and vulgar popular culture has become these days? My own first contribution is a qualifier. I often enjoy vulgarity and funkiness. Back in his brief heyday, for instance, I was a fan and a defender of Andrew Dice Clay. I also like more in the way of flirtatiousness and mischief than many Americans seem comfortable with. What can I say? Affable sexual banter gives the day a sparkle, and it puts me in a good mood. My general attitude: Why not enjoy whatever it is life has to offer in the way of pleasure and delight? I mean, so long as it doesn't lead to personal collapse and social decay. So what makes me wince in the examples I provide above isn't the earthiness, the carnality, or the provocation. I'm... posted by Michael at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments





Tuesday, January 2, 2007


Nine Heads Tall
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some commercial art careers are like meteors -- a brief streak of brilliance followed by ... nothing. Most commercial artists toil in the obscurity of the big side of the 20-80 rule, at best finding local notoriety. That prospect and a distinct lack of talent led me, after college, to totally different fields. For those on the 20 side of the split (actually more like the 2 side of a 2-98 "rule"), the best and likely worst thing that can happen is to become fashionable. The artist will earn buckets of money. He'll exhibit the distinctive style that viewers expect from him. Eventually his audience will tire of his schtick, commissions will dry up and he'll be fortunate if he didn't spend all those bucks he used to earn. John Held, Jr. was a "meteor." Famed for his "flapper" cartoons of the 1920s Jazz Age, his career slumped dramatically in the 30s and beyond. Not so the career of another flapper-monger, Russell Patterson (1893-1977). "Short skirts went out, long skirts came in. John couldn't draw long skirts so Russell Patterson took his work away from him." So said Al Hirschfeld. I had largely forgotten about Patterson in recent years (though I was familiar with his work) and was pleasantly surprised when I spied the following book at the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble. (An oddity: I found links to an Amazon listing via Google, but could not locate it using Amazon's search tool.) Patterson was born in Iowa, raised in Canada, studied art for a while in Chicago and Paris, and at age 30 found himself doing commercial art drudge work while flopping as a Fine Artist. Seeing the success of Held and other cartoonists and recalling a certain Parisian model, he used her as the prototype for a different take on flapperdom. Success was rapid and long-term -- continuing at a high level for 20 years before tapering off in the 50s and early 60s. Long-term success in commercial art usually requires adjusting to stylistic modes. In Patterson's case, he switched from using pens for line-work to the brushwork that seemed nearly universal in the late 30s and into the 40s. One thing that didn't change was his subject-matter -- leggy women. His approach was to stretch the female form to 8 1/2 or 9 heads tall from the normal 7 1/2 or so -- proportions typically used by fashion illustrators. Another Patterson trait was using blocks of black to aid composition, tying the bits tighter. This was aided by the fact that, in the 20s, men often dressed in formal wear -- their dark clothing serving as the binder. I couldn't find a really good example on the Web that was shaggable, so here is a link to a picture associated with many dire warnings dealing with copyrights. True, Russell Patterson's work isn't in the same class as etchings by Duerer or Rembrandt. But I like his stuff. It's fun!! Gallery Patterson... posted by Donald at January 2, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments





Monday, December 18, 2006


Not All Suburbs Are Alike
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- During our semi-regular yaks here about urbanism, sprawl, suburbs, and towns, it's likely that many of us allow stereotypical images to dominate in our minds. I know I do. For instance, where the 'burbs are concerned: Kris writes in to remind us that reality ain't always so simple, and to share a few snapshots of what the living is like in Carefree, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix: Kris informs me that the beastie in photo #4 is a bobcat. (!) A few more eloquent words from Kris: I'm an urban escapee, retooling my thoughts in the aloneness of dry mountains. I can't imagine serious thinking in a city. Cities turn thoughts inward, or toward human society/culture. Here, where the horizon expands, I ponder my future, the beneficence of God, love, what I'm going to write next, etc. You know, biggies. Many thanks to Kris for the lovely pix, as well as for the valuable corrective Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments





Thursday, December 14, 2006


Francis in Public
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey, I only just now woke up to the fact that The NY Sun maintains an archive of Francis Morrone's articles and reviews. Francis, dude, why were you keeping your stash a secret? My fave is Francis' account of New York's glorious Frick house. Francis blogs charmingly about Marianne (Katrina Cottages) Cusato here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (0)
Sad News / Good News
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Massengale writes an eloquent eulogy for his recently-deceased mom. John also brings welcome news: that Boston's atrocious City Hall -- a mid-'60s Brutalist structure hated by the public from its debut but (surprise surprise) much-celebrated by the architecture establishment -- looks likely to be sold and demolished. The building was proudly featured in the architecture-history classes I took in the '70s as one of the recent glories of modernism. Wikipedia quotes a contemporary review from the august (cough cough) Ada Louise Huxtable: "What has been gained is a notable achievement in the creation and control of urban space, and in the uses of monumentality and humanity in the best pattern of great city building. Old and New Boston are joined through an act of urban design that relates directly to the quality of the city and its life." Wikipedia then goes on drily to note: City Hall is unpopular with Bostonians, who see it as a dark and unfriendly eyesore, and with workers in the building. The structure's complex interior spaces result in cavernous voids, a confusing floorplan, and the building is expensive to heat. City Hall Plaza has long been cited as a failure in terms of design and urban planning. In 2004 the Project for Public Spaces identified it as the worst single public plaza worldwide, out of hundreds of contenders. But we wouldn't want to hold critics -- let alone architects (in this case: Gerhard M. Kallmann, Noel M. McKinnell, and Edward F. Knowles, three Columbia University professors) -- responsible for their mistakes, would we? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments




Self-Painted Pole
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I saw a number of nicely-done, interesting paintings when I was in Poland in September. The most intriguing work was done by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), an artist categorized as a Symbolist. One of Malczewski's conceits was making numerous self-portraits where he placed himself in unusual costumes or settings -- not the quotidian surroundings we expect. I haven't been able to find much biographical information on Malczewski in English, so what follows is sketchy in the extreme. He was born in Radom and spent much of his childhood on an uncle's estate at Wielgie where he witnessed events in the 1863 uprising against the Russians. He was trained in Krakow (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) where he eventually became a professor. At the outbreak of the Great War, he moved to Vienna, probably because Krakow was only a few miles from the Russian border. He spent his final years in Krakow, by then in the reconstituted Poland. Roughly speaking, his earliest work featured historical and patriotic themes. At the peak of his career he did allegorical and symbolic works. In later life he did a number of paintings based on his childhood (in my opinion, the weakest of the lot). The paintings I saw in Warsaw and Krakow tended to be thinly-painted: little or no impasto. Malczewski Gallery Melancholia, 1890-94. A rumination about partitioned Poland. Death, 1902. Self-portrait, 1892. Harpia We Snie, 1907. Another self-portrait, but with Symbolism. Self-portrait, 1918. Sel-portrait, 1919. Conclusion? I think Malczewski needs to become better-known outside Poland. And I hope a big, splashy museum show gets in the works soon. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, December 11, 2006


Santa Barbara Biltmore Re-Do
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Actually it's in the town of Montecito, adjoining Santa Barbara to the east. And, technically, it's now a Four Seasons Resort. (The Web page is here, and has a link to more photos than I provide below.) To me it's the Santa Barbara Biltmore and will remain so even if they put up a Motel 6 sign in front. Nancy and I drop by the Biltmore nearly every time we're in the Santa Barbara area. Sometimes it's just to see the place, but we've also done lunch and dinner there and once went to a New Year's Eve party the hotel put on. The hotel was designed in the Spanish style by architect Reginald D. Johnson and opened in 1927. Since then it has been modified, but for the most part, changes have been modest. Perhaps the greatest change to the main building was the conversion of the South Patio to an enclosed dining room, albeit with lots of glass to provide some sense of being outdoors. The Biltmore was re-done again over the winter of 2006. The patio dining room was altered to make it more outdoorsy and the bar was re-oriented to the lounge area, largely returning that area to its 1927 dimensions. So far as I noticed, other changes were comparatively minor. Here are two photos I took early in November. Gallery View across the lobby. Registration desk to the right. The latest incarnation of the former patio. The Biltmore's a lovely place. Now if I only could figure out a way to afford a room for a night... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 11, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments





Thursday, December 7, 2006


Graham Nickson
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Graham Nickson is an interesting figure: an English-born painter deeply committed to figurative painting, yet attached as well to many of the values of modernism. The New Criterion's David Yezzi interviews Nickson, who's articulate, thoughtful, and cheerfully contrarian. Nickson also directs the New York Studio School, a fab (if ever-so-slightly cult-like) downtown art school where I've taken a couple of intro-to-drawing classes. The NYSS is legendary for their "Drawing Marathons," intense sessions of eyeballing, scribbling, and erasing -- and, believe me, the NYSS is very big on erasing and doing-it-over -- that leave artists feeling exhausted and exhilarated. I've always wanted to participate in a Studio School Marathon but haven't yet gotten around to it. A couple of Nickson's own paintings can be eyeballed here. They make me think a bit of the work of another Brit who was into heavily-pondered, on-the-verge-of-abstraction representationalism, Euan Uglow. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2006 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Contrarianism Is Creative?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [The setting: Army barracks, South Korea, 1964] One of the more artsy guys in Seventh Logistical Command's headquarters company was showing us the new suit he had custom-tailored in Taegu. Since we GIs couldn't easily hop over to Hong Kong (at the time, a place noted for nice made-to-order clothing at reasonable prices), we had to make do with local tailors. This was when South Korea was a largely isolated country, commercially -- not quite yet having signed a normalization treaty with next-door Japan. Although Koreans struck me as being hard-working, what they produced seemed shoddy because they didn't often have the chance to see what world-class products were like. For example, I had two Harris Tweed sport jackets made, one of which had a botched collar. To return to the subject, the dark brown suit had a "creative" cut. The trousers had no cuffs ... but the sleeves did! Cuffed sleeves were hardly innovative; check paintings and artifacts from the 18th century, for instance. Unlike the large, showy cuffs from 200 years earlier, the sleeve cuffs we witnessed were just like contemporary pants cuffs. In other words, this guy's concept of creativity was to pull The Old Switcheroo. Yes, yes, styles can evolve via a contrarian dialectic. Skirts begin skirting the floor? ... then raise 'em (perhaps gradually) above the knee. Nevertheless, I sometimes think that many post-1900 artists strive too hard for creativity (and not quality). When being "creative," they often simply produce something that opposes what The Establishment favors. Never mind that it's often the Establishment of 1910 that they're still rebelling against. Blockhead that I am, I don't believe that art has to be creative to be good or even great. I think current art would be much better if artists placed creativity towards the bottom of their lists of objectives. Even if creativity is the top priority for a given art project, being blindly contrarian isn't a guarantee of success. And how did we react to that suit with cuffed sleeves? With mumbles of "Hmm. Interesting." Along with other noncommittally polite sounds. Far be it from us to stifle Genius. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 28, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments




Them and Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an interesting one to suck on: a review of an expansion at the Museum of Modern Art. What do you make of it? I find it interesting in only one way: the writer's total willingness to accept 1) that modernism is / was not just an art development but a genuine religion-replacement wannabe, and 2) that the International Style in architecture isn't just an attempt at a complete architectural language, but a potentially still-valid one. I find myself speechless in the face of this kind of thing. How can you accept these notions without digging into some other questions too? For example: Was it smart and / or productive for modernism to try to function as a replacement religion, and for people to look to it as such? For another: How about a simple acknowledgment that the International Style was the most destructive movement in all of architectural history? Me, I'd finally try to say something more or less along the lines of, "Well, if you're curious about this modern-art-as-religion thing, and if you want to see and experience yet another talented guy attempt the impossible, namely to redeem the International Style, you might consider visiting MOMA, the monomaniacally rectilinear, white-and-light high church of modernism. What a curious historical phenomenon, eh? And patooie on it." But that's the diff between me and a real art-world pro, I guess. They look at at modern-art-as-religion and think, "Gosh, what a great idea! I still share the dream ... " I look at it and think, "Well, I'm sure glad we've awakened from that particular self-delusion. Maybe, despite all the inevitable flow back and forth between them, it makes more sense to think of art and religion as separate if related things. And maybe it would be wise to remind ourselves that it's usually a mistake to displace our religious yearnings onto art and culture." The artworld pros look at the International Style and think, "Wow, abstract geometricism was so beautiful that it's worth sacrificing ever more humanity in order to make it work." I look at the International Sytle and think, "Lordy, what a misguided and disastrous experiment that was. Best to set it aside, and maybe even to put it under lock and key. The time's long overdue for us to get back to going about our building-and-culture schemes in far more modest and time-tested ways." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 28, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments





Thursday, November 16, 2006


Dumping Classical Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why on earth should a well-known art museum keep a bunch of fusty old Greek and Asian objects cluttering their galleries when they can trade the junk in on shiny new stuff by ... oh, whoever seems hot his week. That's pretty much the subject of an article that appeared in yesterday's (15 Nov.) Wall Street Journal Personal Journal section by Tom L. Freudenheim titled "Shuffled Off in Buffalo." Freudenheim is identified as "a former museum director who serves as assistant secretary for museums at the Smithsonian Institution." Since I probably can't link to the article, I'll have to quote and paraphrase more than I like: bear with me. The museum in question is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Freudenheim's home town. He notes that as a child and youth he became inspired to enter the world of art history and museums by the many times he spent roaming the Albright Art Gallery (its name then). It seems that the Alright-Knox recently "announced it plans to sell some 200 objects from its permanent collection." Included on the hit list are a Greco-Roman bronze statue of "Artemis and the Stag," an ancient Chinese bronze wine vessel that the Buffalo News reports is one of only a handful in existence, and a 10th-century life size statue of the god Shiva that a Sotheby's specialist told the Associated Press is "without question the most important Indian sculpture ever to appear on the market." In addition, African, Pre-Columbian and Egyptian objects and Old Master paintings are to be sold. The sale, which Sotheby's will hold next year, is expected to bring in more than $15 million for the purchase of modern and contemporary art. The museum is best known for its collection of seminal works by Abstract Expressionists such as Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. Albright-Knox director Louis Grachos argues that the works to be sold fall outside the the institution's historical "core mission" of "acquiring and exhibiting art of the present." Grachos' point does make some sense. And the items sold won't vanish from the face of the earth (though they might not be available for public viewing for a time). Moreover, it's not likely that every single one of those 200 objects is top-notch. So what's Freudenheim's problem with the sell-off? It's a problem that's become endemic to the [museum director] profession. Museums are devoting more and more resources to acquiring large amounts of contemporary art, work about which the judgment of history--supposedly what museums are all about--is far from settled. Such acquisition policies may be acceptable, but not when done by getting rid of masterpieces whose importance has been validated by time and critical opinion and that provide a context for the work of the present. Ironically, this plan is driven by perceptions about the notably erratic and currently inflated contemporary art market, rather than by any dire financial crisis. He notes that there was an advisory committee on... posted by Donald at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments





Saturday, November 11, 2006


Camille's Girly Side
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dave Lull points out a sweetheart of an interview with Camille Paglia. I've spoken to Paglia twice, and I was struck both times by how giggly and flirty she was when she was talking off the record. Her famous Warrior Woman routine didn't kick into gear until the tape recorder went on. The Bright Lights Film Journal interview captures some of this softer, less-determinedly-assertive Camille. Me, I dig both Camille-the- Warrior-Woman and Camille- the-girly-girl. Don't miss the interview with Bruce LaBruce that's linked-to in the Paglia interview either. I'm a Bruce LaBruce fan myself. Amusing, flamboyant, and sensible (in a hyper-perverse kind of way), he's like a Canadian cross between Larry Clark and John Waters. I wrote an appreciation of LaBruce here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, November 9, 2006


Goodhue's Spanish Ornamentation
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Architectural ornamentation. Should it be verboten, as Bauhaus and other International Style purists would have it? Or should inhibitions be cast away for us to wallow in it, Rococo-fashion? Of course there's the vast middle-ground between these extremes, and that's where things get interesting. For example... A must-see stop on my recent visit to San Diego was the Fine Arts Building-California Building (it's now called the Museum of Man) designed by Bertram Goodhue, located in Balboa Park. He was supervising architect for the 1915-17 Panama-California Exposition, set in Balboa Park, and took that opportunity to do some designing in the Spanish or Spanish Colonial / Spanish Revival manner. Goodhue (1869-1924) had a spotty formal education and suffered mood swings, yet managed to have a successful career (including 25 years in partnership with Ralph Adams Cram). Above all, he was a master designer. That's my opinion, anyway, considering that he designed St. Bartholomew's Church on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Nebraska State Capitol, among other important buildings. And on the side he did publication and typography design. The Fine Arts (as I'll call it here) building has interested me for many years and I find it odd that, even though I've only been in San Diego (briefly) a few times, I never took time to visit Balboa Park until now. Here are some photos I snapped. Gallery Facade view. Tower detail. View of east side. The part of the Fine Arts that interests me most is the facade. Note how plain many of the surfaces are, yet where there's ornamentation, it is intensive. I find this combination of extremes strangely appealing, though it's hard for me to explain why. Maybe that's the nature of aesthetics. It goes far beyond description and analysis, which is why I normally can't be bothered by books or even short articles that are attempts to analyze works of art; a few brief calls to attention normally are good enough. Even so, let me hazard that, arrangement of elements aside, an important factor in Goodhue's design is the ratio of ornament to plain-surface. That too is a kind of balance the designer should strive for. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 9, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments





Sunday, November 5, 2006


SoCal Art Museum Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There wasn't much blogging from me last week because I was -- what else is new? -- on the road. Down the California coast to Santa Barbara, San Diego and points between. I might choose to subject you to accounts of the Del Coronado Hotel, the aircraft carrier Midway and other items I found interesting. But let's focus on the museums I encountered. I'm not all that big on museums, zipping through the galleries faster than Nancy would like. If I go into a museum at all, I normally have a goal in mind. The Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach was a counter-example. I had nothing in mind aside from the fact that it has a collection of California Impressionist art. We had simply stopped at Laguna Beach to take a look at the town, so I peeked inside the museum's front door. Time was short and the main displays didn't interest me much, so I bought a book at the museum shop that, as it turned out, I could have purchased elsewhere for half the price: bummer. Two days later we toured San Diego's Balboa Park, partly because I strongly desired to view a particular Bertram Goodhue building in person. Not far away from the Goodhue was the San Diego Museum of Art which had (OhMyGawd!!) a prime example of the work of Joaquin Sorolla (see below). "Maria at La Granja" by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, 1907. This was in the San Diego Museum of Art's 1926 inaugural exhibit and later presented to the museum by Archer M. Huntington. Plenty of free brushwork and impasto; almost a (huge) sketch, but it is very nice. Of course I slapped down the cash and took in the museum. The Sorolla was, in my feeble judgment, the star of the place, which wasn't currently showing much that impressed me otherwise. Worse, their nice Bouguereau was on tour, so I missed seeing it. The museum I definitely wanted to visit was the Irvine Museum. It's tucked away on the ground floor of an office building not far from the Orange County airport. But it features California Impressionists, a long-ignored group of painters that I find increasingly interesting. The exhibition area is fairly small, yet contained a good representation of the movement. The tiny bookstore had an excellent selection, and it was hard for me to restrain myself from buying more books than I did. Even though I get to Santa Barbara once or twice a year, I've never visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Well, I always go into the museum store. But the museum never had exhibits that turned me on -- until now, with its Artists at Continent's End exhibit dealing with late 19th century painting from the Monterey Peninsula art colony. Some of the work shown at Santa Barbara pre-dated the California Impressionist period. And the exhibit featured a part of California that is foggier and more coastal than many of the... posted by Donald at November 5, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments





Saturday, November 4, 2006


Nikos' New Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm delighted to pass along the news that a new book by my friend and intellectual hero Nikos Salingaros is now available. For people who have begun visiting this blog only recently, a word of explanation. A conviction that I think all Blowhards share is that the fine arts in America have gone badly off the rails in recent decades. Though I "get it," though I enjoy occasional examples of it (Joe Brainard! Jeff Koons' puppy!), and though I'm often eager to endorse weirdo-ness and experiments, it's just plain bizarre how specialized, antagonistic, and off-kilter fine-art-making generally has become. Who but brainwashed insiders can care about much of this stuff? And why shouldn't civilians throw mud while muttering bitterly about turncoat elites? How did this state of affairs come about? After all, the usual thing is for the fine arts to crown, extend, and complete culture more generally, not to outrage and betray it. One of many plausible explanations is that the fine-arts world has been led astray by politically-motivated thinking and theory, much of it of a seductive, French-derived, chic-academic, wheel-spinning nature. So one of the things we like to do at this blog is to celebrate the contemporary thinkers who seem to us to put the fine arts back on more solid footing -- from philosophers like Denis Dutton to literary types like Frederick Turner to anthropologists like Ellen Dissanayake to evo-bio cats like Steven Pinker to architectural thinkers like Christopher Alexander and Leon Krier. Even among this high-powered crowd, Nikos Salingaros is a standout and a special case. He's a University of Texas mathematician who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander and who has become a major architecture-and-urbanism thinker in his own right. A hyper-civilized guy, responsive to and knowledgeable about the arts, he's appalled by fraudulent and destructive culture-thinking. Nikos is urbane and witheringly funny when he examines what passes for contemporary architecture theory, for example. How can such utter nonsense possess and transfix so many? He has an intriguing theory about that too. But Nikos isn't just a devastating critic of folly. He has also made profound contributions. Though he's aligned in many ways with the New Classicists -- his book has an introduction by the New Classicism fan, the Prince of Wales -- Nikos's own urgings are, like those of Christopher Alexander, style-independent, and should be of great use to any designer, patron, or township. How can ornament be justifed, and why is it necessary? What are the ratios and hierarchies that promote neighborliness and beauty? What is it about our biological nature -- perhaps even about the nature of matter itself -- that makes us feel one thing in the presence of one kind of structure and something else in the presence of another? "A Theory of Architecture," Nikos' new book, is on its most basic level a textbook for architecture students. Slim, witty, and thorough -- as well as sophisticated-yet-accessible (a favorite combo of mine) --... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments




Francis on Manship, Columbia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some visitors may not know that occasional Blowhard Francis Morrone has a regular gig at The New York Sun, where he covers architecture, neighborhoods, and, occasionally, art. It's always worth searching out Francis' work, of course; he's one of the very best out there. But he's in especially good form in the current issue of the Sun. Here he writes a clear-eyed appreciation of the mid-century, kinda-modernist / kinda-traditionalist sculptor Paul Manship; and here he's eloquent and informative on the contributions of architect and planner Charles Follen McKim to the campus of Columbia University. Francis also writes for The Classicist, the blog of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America. In a current posting, he reviews Time Out's recent guide to the Best Blocks in New York City. A first-rate passage: What stands out is that the Time Out kids' choice of the best blocks included not one that is identified by modernist buildings -- indeed, scarcely one that even has a modernist building on it. This article was not written by architectural ideologues. In fact, the people who wrote it may very well think Zaha Hadid is cool, or they may very well, had they ranked 50 buildings rather than 50 blocks, have included plenty of modernist stuff. But the striking thing is that this is an article about where people actually, truly want to live. And isn't that a beautiful example of the kind of approach to the arts that welike to promote around here! Forget the eager fools who write propaganda for the chic-starchitecture industry, and for whom architecture and urbanism are little but excuses for "I'm more radical than you" design-chat. On a regular basis, Francis offers generous and rewarding heaps of the real thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments





Friday, October 13, 2006


The Reviver?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In yet another bit of wishful thinking, er, in yet another attempt to revive its ailing downtown, Rochester, New York is investing $270 million of taxpayer money in a gigantic Moshe Safdie-designed complex. (You can explore the project further here.) Offhand design critique: too white, too many swoops, too much glass, and 'waaaaay too big a helping of that modernist obsession, "natural light." (Modernists seem to dislike the idea of buildings as shelter. Too traditional, I suppose.) Whiteness, swoopiness, glassiness, excess dazzle ... There's a lot of that particular combo around these days, isn't there? Fast hunch about the complex's prospects: Ain't gonna work as planned. Quick question: Does it really make sense to be spending 270 million public dollars on this kind of thing? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments




Ever-Expanding, Ever-Contracting
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Uncle Patrick sees some virtues in hippie music. Nice, and suggestive, sentence: Jethro Tull "introduced me to jazz, classical and rock music all at once." That's something pop culture doesn't do any longer, it seems to me. Pop culture has grown more various, expansive, and inclusive than it once was -- no denying that. But at the same time it has also become more all-engulfing. A far-out piece of pop music isn't likely to lead an adventurous listener to the worlds of jazz, folk, or classical these days; it's much more likely to lead to other far-out pop music instead. Same in other fields. Time magazine once treated pop culture condescendingly and inadequately, for example, but did an OK job of providing glimpses of and intros to the worlds of classical music, dance, poetry, and fine art. These days -- though it's much more open to pop culture than it once was -- acknowledgment of other forms of culture can be hard to find in Time's pages. Sigh: does it always have to be one or the other? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments





Monday, October 9, 2006


More Glass
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Stop the presses: Architecture critic praises glassy geometrical building-thing! The whole piece is a not-to-be-missed, unwitting and rich self-parody. But here's one especially hilarious passage: Minimalist architecture deserving of the name pares itself down not in the pursuit of style points but in an effort to frame the relationship between solid and void, nature and culture, and color and its absence -- and to explore how the eye sees and the mind understands those differences. I'll have two of those, fried and over easy! Where do these people get their brainwashings, er, educations? And what is it about a certain kind of architect (and architecture buff) that finds the idea of living in a department store's sparkly perfume-bottle counter so thrilling? More pix here. I wrote here about the kinky relationship many architects have with glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments




Queen Nefertiti Was ... Dumpy?!?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Any of you guys dig older women? Especially those you met in an art history class? A few trifling Greek statues aside (that Venus de something-or-other, etc.), the unquestioned (for me) pre-1400 A.D. Art Babe is Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, 18th Dynasty, circa 1340 B.C. Here are some views of the famous bust from the workshop of Tuthmosis. The current consensus is that the bust was created as a reference for stone statues and other, more permanent representations of her. Hence the missing left eyeball. Nefertiti (the bust) has been living in Berlin for the past 90 years or so, and I finally got the chance to meet her there last month. She was as stunning as I anticipated she would be. A group of students was surrounding the bust and taking in a lecture when I arrived at her gallery in the Egyptian Museum, so I strayed 30 or so feet away to other displays to wait for them to move along. There I noticed a case containing a statue of her. It was small -- 40 centimeters -- but a full-length, nearly nude figure. And my beloved Nefertiti looked -- how can I put this delicately? -- ready for a size 16 skirt at a Talbot's sale. Here are some photos of that statuette. I couldn't find a side-view via Google (perhaps a reader can do better: check the Comments) so you'll have to use some imagination. But my take of the statuette in profile was that she had a pretty large butt and tummy, not to mention the heavy legs you can see in the photos. This was disappointing. You see, from the bust alone I extrapolated the rest of her to be basically lean, yet sensually shapely. But she was what she was, and the artists depicting her added a good deal of individuality, going beyond the stylistic conventions we associate with Egyptian art. Furthermore, as a book I bought at the museum pointed out, even the bust showed Nefertiti as a mature woman. Note the incipient bags under the eyes. I'd take her for early 30s or a well-preserved 40. The statuette was probably made later because, if you look closely, you can see wrinkling at the corners of her mouth. My guess is that Nefertiti always had a stunning face and thin upper torso while being at least a little thick in the thighs and ankles. So she wasn't perfection after all. [Sigh] Later, Donald P.S. For general info on Nefertiti, click here.... posted by Donald at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments





Wednesday, October 4, 2006


Art? ... Who Sez So?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I posted on "sound-effects art" and one commenter claimed my "posting seems to be another salvo in a regular 2 blowhards series that follows the syllogism: "I do not consider this to be art, therefore it should not be considered art." The commenter has a point because I find it hard to consider sound effects as art. This raises a larger issue: Just who determines what is art and what isn't. I get the impression that, nowadays, "art" is often what the "artist" claims is "art." Though it helps if a journalist or some other party with a smidgen of respectability buys the claim. (And who defines who is an artist? Seems to me that these days this can be simple self-identification -- "I am an artist and who are you to deny my greatness?") But if seemingly just about anyone -- including the creator of an object or gallery owners who clearly have a strong self-interest in having that object considered art -- can claim things as art, then why can't just about anyone deny that something is art? It only seems fair. Ah, but that's no good because any old blowhard (or Blowhard) might well be a drooling ignoramus unfit to to pass judgment on anything, let alone art. But if it can't be just anybody, then: Whee!! We're on the edge of the slippery slope of credentialism! I don't want to go there. Not in this post, anyway. But I'll note that self-appointed establishments make me a little nervous. So how about this innocent li'l ol' talking point? -- Let the "market" (the gallery scene, public opinion, whatever) decide what's art and what's not. Yes, this can be a messy process and the results hardly clear-cut. Yet it seems to be roughly how art has been defined in practice in our mass-media age. The guy who makes something can call it "art." A writer for The New York Times can agree. A Blowhard can beg to differ. And innocent bystanders might sort it all out, eventually. Is this better than leaving things up to "experts?" Where do you stand? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments





Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Andy and Me and Joe and Don
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you make it through the recent Ric Burns / PBS documentary about Andy Warhol? What a logy and dismal piece of filmmaking. Pacing-wise, Ric Burns makes Ken Burns look like an action-adventure specialist. And the apparatus that PBS loads on top of so many of their prestige documentaries drives me nuts. The mournful music is a particular annoyance. That noodling solo piano (or solo violin) seems meant to convey, "When did America go so wrong?" In "Andy Warhol," two hours passed before music with a discernable beat could be heard in the background -- and this in a film whose subject was a fantastically successful '60s pop artist. The surfeit of pointless, standard-issue PBS verbiage about what it means to be an American can drive me up a wall too. Warhol, you'll be shocked to learn, was "the most American of artists." In him and in his work, "we see ourselves." Actually I was too stunned by the banality of the narration -- delivered in the most banal way by Laurie Anderson -- to rush to my notebook to transcribe passages verbatim. Trust me, though: They were worse than anything you or I could invent on our own. (Long ago -- here and here -- I had some fun at the expense of what I called "the church of PBS.") But, y'know, documentaries ... Real subject matter, decent footage, interesting interviews, etc. I stuck the film out, all four hours of it. Although I've never been drawn to Warhol's work (rather the opposite), I did live through the '60s and '70s -- and what the hell was all that about? (Not as settled a question as it's sometimes made out to be!) Also, watching the film, it dawned on me that Andy and I have our own little history together. At college in the '70s, one of my suitemates was an arty Warhol worshipper. He painted affectless paintings; he spoke in a light, flat, odd voice; and he had a posse of outrageously camp friends from New York City -- he ran his own mini-Factory, in other words. In the '80s, The Wife and I did some writing for Warhol's Interview magazine. We've been to the Warhol Museum. I've read "Edie," as well as a couple of Warhol's own books, and I've gone through many essays about his work. I've watched a few of the movies and seen many of the paintings. The Wife and I live about six blocks from where Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas. As the credits on the PBS show came up, it didn't come as a total surprise to learn that one of the film's producers is someone I know, if in a very-long-ago sort of way. So, although I'm not a fan and I'm not a scholar either, and though I never encountered Warhol in the flesh, Andy and I have some history together. Interesting! If -- given what a smalltown hetero rube I am at... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments




Visual Memory
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good lord: Talk about a visual savant! The wonderfully-gifted autistic Londoner Stephen Wiltshire is taken for a helicopter ride over Rome, and is then asked to draw what he saw. One helicopter ride over Rome! All I'd have come away with is a wowed general impression, wobbly knees, and a hunger for some good Italian food ... Here's Stephen Wiltshire's website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments





Saturday, September 23, 2006


Glassy NYC
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Prairie Mary and Dave Lull for turning up this good A.A. Gill piece for Vanity Fair. New York is in the midst of a chic-building boom: ripply glass, acute angles, perfume-bottle shapes, etc. Is this an exciting and innovative development (the usual design press)? Or are we being subjected to a tragic repeat of our disastrous '50s adventure with glass boxes, as we Real Folk may tend to think? Bless his heart, Gill comes down on the side of the Real Folk, and does so with some much-needed verbal flair. Here's a good passage: What they all seem to have in common are their vast expanses of glass. Over in Europe, we're all a bit fed up with the answer to every urban architectural problem being a sheet of textured glass wrapped around steel. We've grown cynical about the metaphor of transparency, openness, harmony, and light. It's not like floating in the sky. It's like living in Pyrex. Like being the ingredients in some glutinous civic fruitcake. It's not that these new Manhattan buildings don't look very good. It's that they look lazily derivative, and they'll make New York look like every other grubbily transparent financial hub in the world. It's a fiasco for the city, in other words. Yup: International Modernism is back, only this time around all that glassy graph paper has got the wiggles -- big improvement! Problems now solved! Baloney to that. It's heartening, though, to see Gill's refusal-to-be-impressed appear in a mainstream magazine. Let's hope that the official discussion about architecture-and-urbanism is finally beginning to open up to some dissenting voices. Related: I wrote about some recent developments in architecture here and here. At the bottom of this posting, I went out on a limb and called the steel-and-glass specialist Richard Meier "an asshole." I can't see any reason to take that judgment back. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 23, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments





Friday, September 15, 2006


A New Head Architect
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Massengale relays the announcement that new-Classicist Thomas Gordon Smith has been named chief architect of the General Services Adminstration. The appointment seems a virtual guarantee that official US building programs will be taking a more traditional turn. Given how bizarrely chic, spikey, and soon-to-be-embarrassing recent government projects have become -- "Design Excellence," my ass -- this is a very pleasing development. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 15, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, September 14, 2006


Wabi Sabi
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A Fred link to a good Wikipedia entry on the Japanese aesthetic known as Wabi Sabi has reminded me that I've long wanted to pass along ... Er, dammit, where are those notes? ... OK, got 'em. Anyhoo, I was struck by a conversation between a couple of Japanese art curators, Shiji Kohmoto and Fumio Nanji. Sorry to supply it source-less: I copied this passage out and set it aside a couple of years ago, and I no longer recall where I found it. Still! Shinji Kohmoto: The Western concept of art, based on notions of individualism, was introduced to Japan only a hundred years ago ... [Japanese] art works operate as elements which create a particular space and mood -- they were not personal artistic statements and they were not a method of defining meaning and ideas. Our main concern was not to produce or have objects, but to experience daily the different stages of the mind. Fumio Nanji: We didn't have the concept of art in a modern western sense; we had craft, the main concern of which had to do with techniques, materials, and decoration in relation to space, architecture, and lifestyle. SK: All (pots, chairs, scrolls) were elements equally capable of giving people an opportunity to reflect on or feel something else behind the visible. FN: To talk about identity you need someone else -- to make you think objectively about yourself, of your identity. But we in Japan never had that chance. SK: The Japanese language is very suggestive rather than reductive. Japanese is a verb-dominated language while English is noun-dominated. Japanese has a limited vocabulary of adjectives; it is not analytical in nature ... If the essential character of the post-modern condition can be defined as an awareness of pluralism and relativism, I think Japan has been ready to accept that condition. Wabi Sabi: It's all about the appreciation of impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness. Yeah, baby! I don't know about you, but Asian art theory often stirs me far more than Western art theory does. I enjoyed and learned from this book on Wabi Sabi. Wikipedia links to this good article about the Wabi Sabi aesthetic. Fred has recently put some music he has composed online. It's rousing stuff -- equal parts eerie and rollicking. Fred clearly isn't a stranger to the magic of empty spaces, suggestion, the marks the hand (and the soul) make, and mood either. * Related: I blogged -- cluelessly, heedlessly, enthusiastically -- about Hindu aesthetics here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments





Saturday, September 9, 2006


Classical Art Training
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Exciting news from The Classicist: the arrival of a new new-traditionalist fine arts academy in Manhattan, The Grand Central Academy of Art. The GCAA is the creation of the wonderful ICA&CA (Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America); its operations will be directed and overseen by the brilliant painter Jacob Collins; and its core program will be an intense three-year training period in classical and realist techniques. I'm thrilled to note that the GCAA will also offer weekend and evening classes for amateurs and duffers -- that would include me! James Panero interviews Jacob Collins here. "I have a lot of respect for French academic painting," Collins says daringly. Another nice passage: It seems that, in the twentieth century, a lot of energy went into dismantling traditional art forms. I don't particularly love that. Whether it was good or bad, this spirit has definitely wound down. So much of the energy of Modernism came from the electricity of breaking the pieces of the art object apart. I'm certainly not claiming that there are no pieces, but that now, in Traditionalism, it's about putting the pieces back together. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 9, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments




The Zaniness of FLW
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Prairie Mary for pointing out this fascinating Christopher Hawthorne article about "The Fellowhip," a new study of Frank Lloyd Wright. The authors did their best to discard the Eternal Genius lens through which Wright is usually seen, and to consider him as a mere mortal, if one with enormous talent. That's something I tried to do myself -- in a much more modest way, of course, and confining myself entirely to his work -- back in this posting, which I wittily entitled "Frank Lloyd Wright Is Not God." It generated some controversy, to say the least. Mary has put up a wonderful posting of her own about how she learned to write. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 9, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments





Thursday, September 7, 2006


Sound-Effects "Art"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Public art comes in many forms, noises included. You might have experienced one example if you've ever flown into Seattle's airport and were in either of terminals B or C. And you really would have noticed it if you had operated one of the water fountains. When the water lever is pushed, besides the expected stream of water, out come loud gurgling noises ("glup, GLUMP, gurgle, GLUMP!!). I find the experience so awful that I head for one of the other terminals to slake my thirst. How do I know this is "art?" Because by each sound-effects equipped drinking fountain is a small plaque proclaiming the name of the "artist" (a guy named Jim Green). These noisy fountains have been in place for years and it's hard to believe that no one has ever complained. Apparently the only thing complainers can be sure of is that their complaints carry next to no weight with public authorities. ...How many years did it take to remove the "wall" sculpture by the municipal office building near New York's City Hall?... It'll probably be a long time before SeaTac airport is gurgle-free. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 7, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments





Monday, September 4, 2006


Separating Artist and Art
Donald Pittenger writes Dear Blowhards -- So Guenter Grass was in the SS in World War 2. Not the part of the SS most people think of, where SSers wore tight-fitting black uniforms and got to wave Lugars around while sneering at members of lesser races. You see, as the war ground along, the SS became a military arm of the National Socialist German Workers Party. There were even SS divisions, which didn't amuse the Wehrmacht generals, I would think. Anyway, Grass was in the military part of the SS. The revelation touched off a fair amount of fuss in both the traditional media and the Blogosphere (see here for info on Grass and here for a report on the controversy). Besides the not-so-trivial matter of Grass' decades of hypocrisy, the issue of separating artist and art came up from time to time. And that perennial issue is what interests me more than Grass who, to my mind, spent his career backing the wrong political horse. Okay, I understand that we are supposed to focus on the quality of the art and not the merits or failings of the artist. Fallen, fallible creature that I am, I don't seem to be able to live up to that standard. If I despise an artist's lifestyle, personality, morality or politics, I can find it hard to like his art. This isn't universal, mind you; my reaction varies by case. Let me focus on politics for now. I am an anti-communist (gasp!!). That makes me seriously unwelcome in many artistic circles, but so be it; "I yam what I yam" as Popeye the Sailor succinctly put it. But I fancy myself a reasonable anti-communist. I tend to give slack to people who fell in love with socialism and communism back in the days when those schemes were theoretical, untried. I give a lot less slack to those who persisted in loving communism after the period of Stalin's trials and the August 1939 pact with Hitler. And I pretty much totally write off anyone who was a communist or sympathizer after the mid-50s uprisings in East Germany, Poland and, especially, Hungary. Now that I've established myself as a vile, closed-minded, imperialist warmonger, let's turn to art. Even if an artist was as red as the "meatball" on the flag of Japan, I can overlook his politics so long as the subject of the art is non-political. Obvious examples are artists who were Abstract Expressionists. Other artists favored political themes. George Grosz is an artist whose art and politics I don't like. Ben Shahn also was a lefty who sometimes dealt with political subjects, but I tend to like his work thanks to his interesting technique. In particular, I was intrigued by his pen-an-ink work back in the 50s when I was a student. Frida Kahlo is an artist whose popularity has inexplicably (to me) risen greatly over the last decade or so. She and her sometime husband Diego Rivera were reds, but a quick... posted by Donald at September 4, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments





Thursday, August 17, 2006


Classicism Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Classicism nuts have another essential websource to explore: Greg Shue's beautiful Grand Tradition. Greg's site offers many hours' worth of browsing possibilities, and the material that's on display can really make the head and the senses swim. I loved, for instance, running into this image of Oslo's warmly-colored, distinctively-proportioned National Theater. And the site's links page is a one-stop guide to the online Classical-architecture world. I'm hoping Greg starts blogging soon. * Francis Morrone takes a look at Renzo Piano's addition to New York City's Morgan Library and somehow manages to be very informative, quietly impassioned, and drily amusing all at the same time. I haven't been inside Piano's addition yet, but when I walked by it the other day I was stunned by how banal the exterior is. It all but screeched "bad American embassy in Abu Dhabi, 1962." In the comments on Francis' posting, Tatyana aptly compares Piano's creation to a "plane hangar." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments




Some French Illustrators
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards As anyone who saw "The Triplets of Belleville" can testify, the French have their own way with cartooning and animation. Not for them the perennial (and to my mind often tiresome) American war between the commercial/superhero scene and the indie/slacker scene. French illustration art often manages to be adult, poetic, full of charm and personality, and unapologetically handmade-looking even when it isn't actually handmade. Here's a site where you can sample the work of some young French illustrators. I especially like the girlie-but-funky stylings of Adolie Day, and the fluid, wittily incisive doodles of Le Vilain. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2006 | perma-link | (0)

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Winning Artists
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became so much of a political cause that the question of how good an artist he was rarely came up. (FWIW, I was never much of a fan myself.) Serena Davies pans his work, and shares a few unpleasant facts about his personality too. * The painter Amedeo Modigliani wasn't in the running for a "Best Personality" award either, it seems. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments





Friday, August 11, 2006


The Marketplace or the Theater?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Frederick Turner wants us to see Shakespeare as the poet of capitalism. Nice passage: Shakespeare's reasoning endorses the tweaking and readaptation of natural processes for human purposes. Those natural processes, however, are but precursors and simpler versions of the much more deeply self-referential and multi-leveled processes we find in the human world. The market is just such a complex system. The market is the drama of concrete human interaction, the theater of the world. Only highly nonlinear, turbulent, and far-from equilibrium processes, as the market is, could produce such complex and individuated entities as human personalities and cultures. As a huge fan of Turner's work both as a poet and a critic, I take him seriously. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, August 9, 2006


Architecture by Braun
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I recently threw financial sanity to the winds and bought -- no, we invested in -- this gorgeous hunk of high-end blender. Although it whips up a darned good pesto sauce, its main role is to class up our kitchen. There it sits on the countertop, cool, stylish, and Euro-handsome. What gravitas. What dignity. That heavy, cast-steel gray ... That industrial-sculpture quality ... It's the BMW of blenders, both retro and forward-looking. Putting it to use as a mere smoothie-making device seems like a desecration of the higher aesthetic values. Our snazzy new blender has got me remembering another object too -- but which one? An object that I ran across not in a kitchen but on the street ... Ah, I recall now what it is: it's that Gwathmey Siegel condo building on Astor Place at Cooper Square that advertises itself as "Sculpture for Living." (Translated from the real-estate-ese, that means "overpriced housing for easily-gulled trendoids.") Here's how "Sculpture for Living" sees fit to meet the sidewalk -- ie., how it condescends to address passersby. (That would be you and me.) How lovely and thoughtful, the way it detaches itself so completely from its surroundings. (Scorn is pouring from my voice here, of course.) "I am no mere building," it says. "I am a work of art. Take me on my own unique terms. After all, I'm not meant to fit in. I aim for higher things. I aim to stand out." David Sucher likes to call this approach to buildings "precious-object architecture" -- the making of stylish buildings that sit there by themselves, turning their backs to their surroundings, insisting on being appreciated as self-sufficient objets d'art. Looking at these buildings, I often feel like someone moving among counters of ritzy, avant-garde perfume bottles. Sad to say, but new glassy/metallic objets are going up all over New York City these days. As John Massengale says, our builders seem determined to turn Manhattan into "Houston on the Hudson." I haven't snapped many of these atrocities yet, but here's one I did catch. It opened recently not far from where I live in Greenwich Village.: Full of character, no? The architecture class thinks that we should be thrilled with the projects they're foisting on us, by the way. A great and exciting new era in building is underway, etc. Me, I experience most of what our architecture class gets up to as vicious and unwarranted assaults on much-loved friends. In fact, part of me is convinced that what we're witnessing now -- the erection of acres of ripply glass, Gehrys everywhere, etc -- is going to prove as devastating to our cities as were the rectilinear corporate-modernist behemoths of the 1950s and the concrete-brutalist bunkers of the 1960s. The newfangled angles and surfaces may be a little zanier, and (perhaps) a little more beguiling. But the results -- ie., alienation, chic that quickly becomes Ugly, people losing interest in urban life... posted by Michael at August 9, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments





Monday, August 7, 2006


Dan Mieduch: From Cars to Cowboys
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Cowboys 'n' Indians interested me greatly when I was a kid. No longer. I'm not saying I dislike 'em, mind you. It's more a matter of indifference due to having gone on to other interests. So when I look at "cowboy art" nowadays, I don't pay much attention to how well the artist got details such as clothing, equipment, weapons and so forth. Instead, I react to how well painted the depiction is. And some of it is very good, in my judgment. That's why I thumb through each issue of Art of the West magazine when it turns up on the newsstand and wind up buying around two issues out of every three published. The current issue (July/August 2006) has a really flash cover. Which is saying something, because the majority of their covers feature paintings that are pretty flash. The cover guy for this ish is Dan Mieduch, a fellow I had never heard of even though he can command five-figure prices at auctions. (Lordy Lord -- there's a whole lot of art out there that I'm still ignorant of! Now that I'm about to retire, I should promise myself to use some of that time to visit more galleries.) One reason I find Mieduch interesting is that he was trained in Industrial Design and worked for General Motors for a while. ID students don't need to be able to illustrate humans convincingly; they basically need to do a good job on a product rendering. In some of my reference files I have examples of car design visualizations that included people, and in many cases the artists did a worse job then even I could have. But some ID guys, Mieduch included, are real artists and not simply designers. The magazine article goes into more detail, but here's the biographical blurb on Mieduch's web site to give you a little scene-setting: Cowboy artist Dan Mieduch was born July 18, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan. When he was ten, his family moved to the small town of Clinton, Michigan, where his father bought and ran a tavern and motel. In that farming community, Dan came to appreciate the beauty of the land around him, the abundant wildlife and especially the light of early morning and the deep hues of a summer sunset. Dan attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating with a degree in Industrial Design in l969. He was drafted into the United States Army, where he served as Command Artist for the Southern Command, United States Army, Panama Canal Zone, Panama. While in Panama, he did several historical paintings for area museums. Returning to the States, he worked in several major commercial art studios in Detroit. There, he learned the discipline needed to succeed in the art business and met his wife, Rhonda. In l975 the Mieduch's decided to move west, settling in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dan's career has garnered a following all over the country as his art has been... posted by Donald at August 7, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments





Sunday, July 30, 2006


The WSJ's Big-Bucks "Mall Artists"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Know of any below-the-salt artists who live well? The Wall Street Journal's 14 July Weekend section front-paged Kelly Crow's article "Shopping-Mall Masters" to help answer that question. The "Shopping-Mall" term in the title isn't strictly true, but the artists featured in the article tended to have modest starts and make a lot of their money from reproductions rather than from sales of original works. I'm pleased that the Journal published the piece because there is a "hidden" art market out there -- a market "hidden" to those who get their art news from the likes of The New York Times or art magazines that focus on the big-city gallery scene. One thing I don't know is how the artists mentioned in the article were selected. It might have been by the writer alone. Or perhaps the writer sounded out some art dealers. Despite the theme of the piece, there is a fairly wide range of top prices commanded (see captions below). Although lower top-prices supposedly are somwhat balanced by high sales of reproductions, annual sales totals from all sources aren't included in the article. As it happens, I don't care for much of the work by the artists presented in the article. Nor do I care much for the art that's considered "hot" in New York, London and San Francisco. Remember the 80-20 rule which, for painting, could be more like 95-5 -- 5 being the percent that's even halfway okay. Nevertheless, where seriously large (to me, anyway) numbers of dollars are being spent on art, attention should be paid. No, I'm not saying that attention should be paid because the art is good. My meaning is that it would be worth our while to think about Who is buying that art. Why they are buying that art. (And, perhaps, not buying other kinds of art.) The subject-matter of the art. The techniques used to create the art. The "meaning" of the art (if any). And so forth. In other words, we might learn something, though I can't predict what in any given case. Here are examples of art from the artists featured in the article along with reported top prices for their work. Gallery Howard Behrens Top price: $50,000. Peter Brent Top price: $5,000. Christian Riese Lassen Top price: $300,000. I saw some of his stuff in Honolulu last December. The images were large and had striking colors, so visual impact was high. But I don't care much for his subject-matter and for hard-edge realism in general, so I'd probably never buy any of Lassen's work for hanging on a wall of my house. Bill Mack Top price: $75,000. Thomas McKnight Top price: $45,000. Steven Meyers Top price: A $30,000 order for 23 prints, or just over $1,300 per item. Meyers' does print images based on X-ray (and perhaps other) technology. Diane Romanello Top price: $11,500. Discussion Other artists cited in the WSJ article were Thomas Kinkade (top price: $4 million for a... posted by Donald at July 30, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments





Friday, July 21, 2006


Now It Can Be Told
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- FYI, the blogger behind most of the superb postings at The Classicist is none other than former/current/we-hope-future Blowhard Francis Morrone. Perhaps if we clap loudly enough, Francis will decide to indulge once again in some posting at this site. Meanwhile: go, enjoy, learn. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Lakeshore Luxe
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- House owners and 20th century design isms normally don't mix. A drive through almost any neighborhood with detached houses should confirm this generalization. But generalizations have a way of having exceptions. One important exception is expensive housing built since the end of the 1920s. If you want to find a Modernist or PoMo house, ritzy neighborhoods area good place to start looking. Lakefront property almost always (hmm ... generalizing again, am I?) commands a price premium. Seattle and suburban communities have more lake frontage than most cities. When I was a kid, much lakeshore land on the east side of Lake Washington and on Mercer Island (a large island in the lake) was undeveloped. That happy state had pretty well ended before the 1980s and today it's expensive indeed to own a lakefront house. This post has photos I snapped on a tour cruise. The houses pictured are all on the east side of the lake and not in Seattle proper, where lakeside real estate was gobbled up by the 1930s. I don't know who the owners of these houses are, and I'm not going to research and report addresses and so forth out of respect for privacy. Neither Bill Gates' (Microsoft) nor Howard Schultz's (Starbucks) places are shown, though we cruised past them. Gallery This one looks like it was snatched from Brno in Czechoslovakia (circa 1928). Similar. At least the left part of the facade isn't totally squared-off. Sorry that this shot is a bit blurred, but [whine] I was on a boat, after all. Anyhow, this house has gables and other pre-Mo features. What I find hard to judge from the photo is whether it's a new house or an old one that might have been modernized. A pair of houses. The one on the right is more classical Modernist. Its chimneys give this house a whiff of ante-bellum South. And there is a hipped roof. Interesting pairing here. The building on the left looks to be a classical Northwest Style house of the 1950-70 era -- low gables, vaguely Japanese, but with huge windows. The one on the right might be called Nouveau-Industrial Post-Modern. Finally, still another PoMo palace. Might be an interesting place to visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there. Commentary The houses shown above are not a statistical sample. I was simply snapping away at whatever struck my fancy that day. Plus, I was taking pictures of what could be photographed. Older houses tended to be more shielded by trees and other vegetation than newer ones. A question I can't answer is who the owners are. Clearly they have plenty of disposable income. So let's hypothesize that they're Microsoft Millionaires or that ilk. (There's lot of other money in Seattle thanks to Boeing, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Amazon.com, Weyerhaeuser, etc., etc. -- not to mention lawyers, physicians and owners of prosperous smaller businesses. But let's pretend the owners are techies.) A rich techie probably has a... posted by Donald at July 18, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, July 14, 2006


Uninhibited
Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- For all the thigh, tummy, tattoo-ink, and buttcrack they put on display, today's mid-American girls are apparently as prim (or almost as prim) as ever. A fun recent article in the NYTimes (not online) reports that -- although many middle-class girls get a kick out of dressing "skanky" and calling each other "slut" -- they worry as much as ever about how far to go, and about their reputations. But if the Anna K./Britney mall crowd is one thing, the bohemian set is another -- far more determined to explore possibilities, and much more eager to live their fantasies out. What with computers making porn well-nigh inescapable ... What with popular culture being as lewd as it has become ... What with everyone having grown tired of joyless, partyline feminism ... What with, in short, life having turned into one big sexual cornucopia, many of today's downtown arty kids are responding by pressing pedal to the metal. A few examples: The neo-burlesque scene. (Here's the website of Nasty Canasta, one of my fave neo-burlesque performers.) Natacha Merritt's photo project "Digital Diaries," which chronicles her sex life. Burning Angel, an outfit that makes boho, alt-porn movies. The alt-porn outfit Suicide Girls showcases self-motivated naked girls sporting tattoos and attitude galore -- 2Blowhards' very own Confessions of a Naked Model correspondent Molly Crabapple was a Suicide Girl for a while. (Here's one of Molly's columns for us; here's another.) Molly also takes part in the burlesque scene as a performer, and she sponsors a series of life-drawing evenings where no one pretends that the model's nakedness isn't hot. The main ideas behind a lot of this activity are 1) It's fun to be sexual, 2) Mainstream porn is borrrrrrrring, and 3) So long as I'm making my own choices, no one is being exploited. Setting aside worries about whether this activity represents a good or a bad development, I've often found myself thinking that some of today's most provocative edgy art comes from these fields, perhaps especially the post-camp performance-art/reality-video webprojects. The trailblazing webcam girls -- JenniCam, Anna Voog, and (my own favorite) Isabella@Home -- created happenings that raised many interesting (and maybe unanswerable) Warholian questions. The more recent Beautiful Agony is a fascinating project too: an ever-growing collection of videoclips of people (mostly young and pierced) masturbating to orgasm. Nothing is on explicit visual display -- the camera focuses on head and shoulders, no more. And -- since the self-pleasurers are videotaping themselves and there's no cigar-smoking smut-mogul around to make your skin crawl -- you watch the show feeling free to enjoy the eye-and-ear candy, and to let your brains play with arty questions. Can we call what these people are creating avant-garde art? God knows they're expressing themselves, and god knows they're creating something. But perhaps the "art" is more in the concept? ... Here's an interview with Richard Lawrence, the brains behind Beautiful Agony and its (equally brilliant, IMHO) sister sites, I... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments





Sunday, July 9, 2006


Peripheral artists (6): George Henry and E.A. Hornel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Continuing my series on artists at the edges of both Europe and the Paris-centric narrative of art history, we jump westward from Finland and Russia to Scotland. (For some reason, the phrase "peripheral artists" drives some readers nuts. My feeble defense is here.) Around 1885 (plus/minus 10 years or so) there emerged a group of artists with ties to Glasgow who tended to be anti-establishment [yawn] and influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84), about whom I wrote here, and J. M. Whistler. These artists became known as the "Glasgow Boys." I plan to write about more of the Boys, but will start with two comparative latecomers to the group. Why two? Because they jointly worked on a painting that greatly interested me when I first spotted it in a book about architect Charles Rennie Macintosh and his milieu. I was so impressed that it became a reason to visit Glasgow a few years ago (the prime reason being to see Macintosh's Glasgow School of Art building). The artists are George Henry (1858-1943) and E.A. (Edward Atkinson) Hornel (1864-1933). Henry was born in Ayrshire, but said little about his early life. He went on to study for a while at the Glasgow School of Art. He met Hornel in 1885, Hornel convincing him to spend time at Hornel's Kirkcudbright, Galloway haunts. There they did a good deal of work including two paintings that were done jointly. Henry and Hornel visited Japan for a year and a half in 1893-4, subsidized by an art dealer. Unfortunately, most of Henry's oil paintings, not yet dried (the curse of working in the medium), were ruined aboard the ship on their return trip; his watercolors survived, however. After 1900 Henry moved to London and became a portrait painter. Hornel was born in Australia while his parents were briefly living there before returning to Kirkculbright. Not satisfied with his art school training in Glasgow, he went to Antwerp to study under Karl Verlat. Following his association with Henry, noted above, Hornel found prosperity painting increasingly innocuous pictures of young girls in woodland settings. For more details on his career and work, see here. The following observations are by Roger Billcliffe in his book The Glasgow Boys. In reference to a 1887 Hornel painting, Billcliffe states (p. 194): There is a stronger sense of design and pattern in the composition and the beginnings of Hornel's fascination with an enclosed subject. There is no indication of a horizon but a strong feeling of the claustrophobic enclosure of a dense wood. ... It is the beginning of a Glasgow School concern for pattern, colour and design in composition that was dubbed by several London critics in the 1890s 'the Persian carpet school'. On pages 236-37: ...the most common factor in their work of those years [Henry and Hornel, about 1885-86] is the creation of a confined space within which the figures and animals in these paintings exist. Using a woodland setting both artists dispensed... posted by Donald at July 9, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, July 5, 2006


Modern vs. Modernist
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- John Massengale shows off a hilarious (and fast) Paris Hilton slideshow -- how much time do you suppose that girl spends rehearsing herself in the mirror? Then he points out that the Institute for Classical Architecture has begun its own blog. Don't miss this gorgeous posting about the fabulous American architect Arthur Brown Jr. A little Michael Blowhard input here: Feast your eyes on Brown's buildings (as well as others by such underknown giants as Paul Cret, Bertram Goodhue, and Bernard Maybeck), then remind yourself that these structures were all built in the 20th century. Where architecture-history is concerned, the establishment wants us to think of the 20th century as the era of glass, steel, concrete, and geometry; as far as they're concerned, anything else simply isn't modern architecture. Yet Brown, Cret, Goodhue, and Maybeck didn't do steel and geometry. Instead of glass boxes, these architects gave us what high-end architects have always given us, at least until the modernists (patooie) came along: pillars, domes, clocktowers, arches and arcades, etc., as well as ornaments galore. That's glorious -- as well as likable, comprehensible, and accessible -- stuff. Takeaway lesson: There's an important difference between "modern" and "modernist." Modern means nothing more than "current or recent." Modernist means "buying into the ideology of modernism." In the foreground, modern architecture (Goodhue's 1919 St. Bartholomew's); to the left, modernist architecture (who cares?) Do you need to know the theory behind it to be wowed and moved by Goodhue's modern church in the pic above? Yet what kind of sense does modernist architecture make -- except as Darth Vader-ugly -- if you aren't familiar with the justifications its apologists and propagandists have dreamed up for it? In any case, say hello to the kind of "modern architecture" that the schools and the critics don't want you to know about. Why? Because if too many of us woke up to the fact that we have the choice -- that we're under no obligation to love cold surfaces and sharp edges -- we wouldn't put up with modernism. Thought for the day: Traditional architecture is like tonal music -- instantly comprehensible and accessible to everyone. (And, yeah, sure, as with tonal music there's a lot of crap traditional architecture around.) Meanwhile modernist (and modernist-derived) architecture is the equivalent of atonal music. Each work is supposedly unique, each one is a closed system, and each one demands to be decoded on its own terms. Because they're all partaking of the same open language, pieces of traditional architecture tend to come together in harmonious, interrelated, and organic wholes -- ie, neighborhoods, blocks, towns. Because they speak only to themselves and/or insiders, when pieces of modernist architecture cluster, they almost always result in spikey chaos. The Classicist also points out a wonderful -- a typically wonderful -- Christopher Gray article about an architect completely new to me: Gaetan (sometimes Gaetano) Ajello, a Sicilian immigrant who designed many New York City apartment buildings. (Christopher Gray's... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments





Monday, June 19, 2006


Popular Artists (2): Mian Situ
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This Popular Artists series deals with painters whose work sells well and who have the potential of being rated as artists of note, if not lasting fame. The first subject was Pino and another is Jack Vettriano, but through oversight, I failed to use "Popular Artists" as part of the title of the Vettriano post. The present subject is Mian Situ. He has been featured on the cover of Art of the West magazine, and the biographical information below was culled from the March/April 2005 issue. Mian Situ. Situ was born in a small town in southern China in 1953 and didn't get involved in art until he was a teenager. The Cultural Revolution made it hard to learn about Western art or to get training. Eventually the Guongzhou Institute of Fine Art reopened and Situ was able to take classes from some instructors who had been trained in Russia. His training was in the classical academic vein, starting with intensive drawing. Following Chairman Mao's death, Situ was able to complete an MA in art. While working on this degree he decided that he was better at realism than abstract art, and dropped the latter. MA in hand, he continued at the school as an instructor. Caught up in the get-outta-China fever of the time, he moved to Los Angeles and, later, Vancouver BC where he worked as a street artist, thence to Toronto and finally back to the LA area. During this period his paintings began to win prizes. Now he is well-established and, from gleanings I find in art magazines, respected by his peers. Here are some examples of his work. Gallery What's Next The Word of God 1865 The Golden Mountain: Arriving in San Francisco John Chinamen in the Sierra Second Helping Evaluation Let me begin with my standard disclaimer that I tend to be a pushover for displays of technical (as well as artistic) skill. Mian Situ displays skill in spades. Besides being an excellent draftsman, his brushwork and use of color are impressive. All things considered, I believe that his color work is his strongest suit. Rather than using mostly pure colors, he often tones down much of a painting's surface by mixing in large proportions of complementary colors, this to help frame the areas of focus. And he maintains good overall color-key discipline. So far I've only been able to examine one of his paintings in person (at a gallery in Santa Fe). What struck me was his skill in defining objects using just the right colors in the right places. Linework is essentially absent in his paintings which are built using color in a kind of Post-Impressionist manner. As for subject matter, the Situ work I'm aware of falls mostly into three categories: (1) landscapes, (2) pictures of Chinese in rural Chinese settings, and (3) historical western American scenes wherein at least one Chinese is in view. The paintings featuring people tend to be "illustrations" in that... posted by Donald at June 19, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments





Sunday, June 18, 2006


Modernism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Modernist buffs -- and modernist haters too -- should enjoy this package of stories from The Guardian. It's pegged to a show at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Robert Hughes is as full of caustic, blunt good sense as always. He visits Le Corbusier's legendary Unite d'Habitation (much doted-on by art-history and architecture profs when FvB and I were in college), and finds it to be anything but a modernist paradise: It was in pitiable condition. Corbu's beton brut couldn't be cleaned, the metal-framed windows were hopelessly corroded, the electricity kept shorting out, the brise-soleils or concrete sunscreens were permanently foul with pigeon shit, the "shopping street" halfway up inside was locked and shuttered because ordinary French people prefer to do their marketing on real streets (an obvious aspect of social behaviour that eluded the intellectual grasp of the formgiver, who believed that folk ought to behave in accordance with the dotty authoritarian notions of idealist philosophes like Saint-Simon and Fourier). Deyan Sudjic sneers at those who aren't enraptured by modernism's purities and austerities but has the grace to run a lengthy statement by the British New Classicist Robert Adam: Modernism was founded on a frighteningly arrogant idea that an elite group of people could remake society into something supposedly better, regardless of what the general public actually wanted. It was labelled 'true architecture' by people who believed they had found the gates to heaven ... Paradoxically, Modernism is still around today and in fact it completely dominates the architectural profession. So much so that if you meet an architect, you expect him to be a Modernist. Modernism ... can be seen as a style but I believe it is more than that: a historical theory, based on the idea that only the things that are different in each period are important. So in the engineering era of the Twenties and Thirties, everything had to conform to what was new in engineering, otherwise you weren't being modern. It's like saying that because we have the ability to produce blobby things with computers today, that's all we can do. In architecture courses now, if you do traditional work they fail you or recommend you go into conservation. It's like a cult and if an architect is to be recommended or chosen through a competition, you will invariably end up with a Modernist building. Simon Jenkins found the V&A's show "the most terrifying exhibition I have seen." The modernists were the neocons of 20th-century art. They took a sound methodology -- the questioning of conventional wisdom -- and made it a dogma that brooked no opposition, even from reality ... Modernists approached the past not as an aesthete does, respectfully building on it, but as an autocrat, destroying it and substituting his own values and rules. And ain't that the truth. All the best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Tall, who points out this hilarious, sensible, and well-illustrated James Lileks visit to Minneapolis' avant-garde, Jean Nouvel-designed,... posted by Michael at June 18, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments





Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Aesthetic Ivy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am very, very sorry. We Blowhards (Michael, Friedrich and I, at least) are wretched non-egalitarians if for no other reason than several years of our dark pasts were spent in ... in ... Lousy Ivy Universities. One small way for me to atone for this sin is to initiate a Comments Pile-On. Subject for today is Ivy League campuses. For those suffering the damnation of getting an elite education, who is drawing, so to speak, the long and short straws? I'll start things off in a sec -- but first a (not necessarily representative, given what I could find via Google) set of pictures, one per school. Ivy Gallery Brown Columbia Cornell Dartmouth Harvard Penn Princeton Yale As for setting, I'd say Cornell's is most spectacular, being "high above Cayuga's waters" and all. Next would be Dartmouth, nestled next to not-very-large Hanover in the New Hampshire hills. Then comes Princeton, partly in the town, yet facing a greenbelt to the east that gives it some separation from the U.S. 1 commercial/office strip that has been a'building since the 1960s. The other Ivies are in cities, and that limits possibilities. Columbia in New York City fares worst, being crammed into its site with little expansion prospect except upwards. Yale does reasonably well in an urban context because its campus forms a sort of transition zone between downtown New Haven and a residential area. Penn wards off its city surroundings by virtue of having lots and lots of trees; the place strikes me as being lush twixt early April and the end of October. Architecturally I say Yale wins, hands-down. The quadrangles and their (mostly) Collegiate Gothic architecture using similar stone provide both structure and visual unity. Princeton comes close if you consider only its dormitory area and perhaps the Firestone Library, but the rest of the campus is a hodge-podge of shapes and styles. Penn has a variety of architectural styles, but imposes some unity by having many buildings faced with wine-colored brick and grey stone or concrete accents. Dartmouth, like all colleges built over a span of many decades, has more than one style, yet manages the aura of a New England town. Cornell has a number of nice buildings enhanced by a park-like setting. Otherwise, I say Columbia is the least-distinguished Ivy from an architectural standpoint. Harvard, having been through centuries of development, strikes me as non-descript. I'll withhold comment on Brown. I gave it a look-see back in 1965 when I was considering going there, but haven't visited since. Overall I rate Yale, Dartmouth and perhaps Cornell tops for a student seeking an aesthetic Ivy experience. Then come Princeton, Penn and Harvard (in that order) to form the middle range. Columbia rates last on all counts and Brown, as just mentioned, cannot be fairly rated by me. I have spoken. Now Pile On. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 13, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments





Monday, June 12, 2006


Best?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards - Have a look at what the American Institute of Architects deems the top buildings of the year. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 12, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments





Friday, June 9, 2006


Manny Farber
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a big fan of both Manny Farber's paintings and Manny Farber's film criticism, I was thrilled to read that a new show of his visuals was recently on display in La Jolla, and that a new collection of his writing about movies will be coming along soon. (He has often co-written with his wife, the artist Patricia Patterson.) Duncan Shepherd's memoir of being a student and a friend of Farber's is a bit scattershot, but I also found it touching, as well as very good on the kind of boho, freeform lives many filmnerds and artnerds lead. Hard to believe that Manny Farber will soon turn 90 ... Best, Michael UPDATE: I just this minute stumbled across the blog of David Chute, one of the very best of the Boomer film critics. As a reviewer, Chute is supersmart and perceptive about movies; as a blogger, he's all that, plus frank about the pleasures and travails of the critic life. A few good passages: I've found myself wishing many times over the years that there was something else I had learned along the way that people were willing to pay me to do. (Folding socks? Reading detective novels?) ... If the day ever comes when I cobble togethr 40 whole hours of remunerative employment I imagine it will be sweet to pursue writing, if I decide to do so at all, strictly as an amateur activity in the best sense, as a labor of love. When I changed the course of my life in the mid-1980s by leaving a full-time job as a critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner I was moved as much as anything by disgust at the level to which second-string critics have to stoop, writing for weeks on end only about the purest, dullest trash. One's job in a case like this becames a mad tap-dance, trashing the film as entertainingly as possible so that at least the experience of reading about it wouldn't be a total loss ... I think only a bully could sincerely enjoy doing this work week in and week out. And there is likely some connection between the state of mind required to feel self-righteous while humiliating people, and how notoriously thin skinned many critics are when they find themselves on the receiving end.... posted by Michael at June 9, 2006 | perma-link | (0)

Tuesday, June 6, 2006


Fave Fairs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What ever happened to world's fairs? Well, they're still happening. I didn't realize that. Once upon a time, I thought world's fairs were a Big Deal. But I haven't paid much attention to them in many years and assumed most other folks didn't either. Nevertheless, enough people care about them that more are in the works: a big one is coming up in Shanghai in 2010, for example. Here is a web site with fair info, including dates and location of fairs going back to the 1851 London fair in Hyde Park that gave the world the Crystal Palace iron-and-glass structure that became a design cliche for several 19th century fairs. Without going into details, there are flavors of world's fairs: big and small basically, the smaller ones often having a regional or thematic focus. The big ones come along every decade or so and are the ones you're likely to hear about in the national news media. Large fairs are sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (the major exception being the 1964-65 New York World's Fair). If you want more details, click here. I have visited four fairs: Seattle, 1962; New York (in 1965); Spokane, 1974; and Vancouver, 1986. It was the Vancouver fair that finally got me turned off on world's fairs. Plenty of exhibits -- but not all -- were the multi-media kind where viewers became packaged meat on moving walkways. Once en route one is trapped, having to look at whatever the exhibit designer wants one to see in the designated sequence with music and a carefully-scripted voice-over blaring in one's ears. I found I could take one or two of these exhibits, but after that I felt I was being driven crazy. Upon reflection, I think all the fairs I saw lacked the excitement of some previous fairs that I never had the opportunity to see. In my book, the "golden age" of world's fairs ended in 1939. Why haven't post-World War 2 fairs measured up? In part because architectural themes seem to be lacking; the buildings tend to be a hodge-podge of "Look at me!!" structures that cancel each other's impact. Another likely fair-killer is the demolition of distance caused by air travel and satellite-based communications. Much of the stuff displayed in fairs is already known to us via television, the Internet or personal travel, thus reducing its impact. Or so I think. I hope to blog about individual fairs, so for now I'll simply list the ones I wish I could have seen and suggest why. 1893 Chicago, for its architectural impact. I'd love to be able to personally assess the notion that it set back Modernism -- as historians have claimed. 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. This was not a sanctioned world's fair, but I think it was hugely important for the fields of Architecture and Industrial Design. 1933 Chicago. Another design-theme exposition of interest (like the 1893 fair and... posted by Donald at June 6, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments





Saturday, June 3, 2006


American Cities
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In his interview with Michael Phillips, Bernard Frieden conveys a lot of essential social history in a very short space. Cities, suburbs, "urban renewal," shopping, the interest in history, food ... It's a trustworthy and compact picture of what America has made of its cities since World War II. Key passage: In the course of knocking things down to try to rebuild the cities, the planners and the public officials were also very careless about other people's interests. They tore down a tremendous amount of housing, booted out hundreds of thousands of families around the country, evicted at least tens of thousands of small businesses, many of which never recovered from the move, and, in an effort to cure the city, many of these programs really made cities worse. They kicked out the people who would have stayed longer and the businesses that might have stayed longer, in order to create the makings of that clean slate. That's the way it was in the '50s. Frieden is the author of "Downtown, Inc.," which I've just put on my Amazon Wish List. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 3, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments





Friday, June 2, 2006


Provincial Gallery Scene (1): Kal Gajoum
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are parallel universes in the art market. For example, there is the tourist market. I've seen this along the Seine in Paris, in St. Petersburg in Russia and on Greek islands such as Mykonos. The artist (or someone representing himself as an artist) sells (often unframed) oils, watercolors or engravings directly to passing tourists. Then there are artists who motorhome around the country, flitting from shopping mall to shopping mall where a group of them will clutter the main aisle offering everything from hyper-realistic depictions of waves crashing on a beach to portraits of Elvis on black velvet. At the opposite extreme price-wise, if not necessarily in terms of artistic quality, are the ultra-fashionable galleries in New York and a few other cities where works are sold for prices in the six-and-up-digit dollar range. The "Provincial Gallery Scene" in the title of this post refers to none of what I just mentioned. My "parallel universe" of interest is the gallery that caters to clients willing to drop, let's say, five-digit dollar amounts for a painting. Such clients are probably fairly well-educated, though I'm not sure what proportion buys art based on their personal taste as opposed to relying on consultants, art critics or gallery staff to advise on purchasing. By "provincial" I mean that these galleries tend to be located away from New York. I have seen them in places such as Carmel, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Scottsdale, Arizona. My plan is to report from time to time on artists whose work I find in such galleries. This is art flying below the radar of the publicity/investment-driven gallery world noted above. But not far below. I consider this art to be more in tune with the tastes of educated Americans in general. Moreover, some of it might prove to be more enduring than what's currently hot in New York. This series differs slightly from my Popular Artists series in that these artists are less well-known. I need to add that I won't necessarily enthuse over what I'll write about, as you will see below. My self-appointed task is to report art that I find interesting, if not something I would buy. * * * * * Paintings by the subject of the present post were seen at a gallery in Whistler -- British Columbia's posh ski resort area that will be the site of outdoor events in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The blurb on a handout I grabbed at the gallery states: Born in Tripoli, Kal Gajoum lived for extended periods of time in Malta, England and Paris, France before moving to Vancouver, British Columbia. During these periods Kal earnestly studied fine art at the knee of some of the greatest teachers in Europe where he fell in love with the postimpressionist style. Painting in a style reminiscent of the postimpressionists, the master, Kal Gajoum paints with a passion. His unique and graceful style is refreshing. It embraces a warmth and... posted by Donald at June 2, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments





Thursday, June 1, 2006


Visual Delights
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Edmund Leveckis' near-monochrome photographs are moody, evocative wonders, with a kind of dense, slow-you-down presence that's rare in photography. In any visual art, come to think of it ... (Thanks to Howard Linton for the link.) * I linked before to Hugh Symonds' remarkably rich cellphone photographs. Who'd have thought that cellphone lenses could generate such a lot of otherwordly beauty? I was happy to notice that Hugh recently put up some new photographs. Check out this gorgeous micro-triptych for a quick example. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments





Sunday, May 28, 2006


What Are You On, Anyway?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This endless photograph reminds me of bleary, long-ago hours with foreign chemicals goosing my brain. Is there any way the traditional arts can compete with this spacey cyberenvironment, at least on its own druggy terms? Did you know that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both took LSD trips>? And doesn't this just blow your mind? Conlon Nancarrow, look out. (Sample some of Nancarrow's music here.) Long ago, I ventured the thought that a good way to think of the contrast between post-'60s American art and earlier American art is in terms of the intoxicant that was currently in vogue. Much post-'60s American art -- with its emphasis on conceptual hijinks and wipe-me-out sensory overload -- is basically trying to recreate a drug experience, while a lot of earlier American art (cocky/depressive, fizzy/grandiose, gallant/pugnacious) reflects the influence of booze. John Markoff's book about how the counterculture influenced and shaped the computer revolution can be bought here. Here's a list of well-known people who have spoken publically about taking LSD. Here's an interview in which Gates pointedly doesn't deny taking LSD. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 28, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments





Thursday, May 25, 2006


Performance and Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I always enjoy comparing notes with the brash evo-bio brainiacs at GNXP. Agnostic especially is drawn to mulling over culture-and-art matters, and he unfailingly comes up with interesting thoughts and provocative research. Recently he has been thinking about G and creativity. With no research to back me up (but with several decades in the arts and the media), I love following his arguments and then throwing pebbles in his path. I was pretty pleased with my latest comment on his latest posting, so I'm treating myself to re-running it here: Let me give you a few more things to chew on. The main flaw with your theory, it seems to me, is that it obliges you to exclude tribal, folk, popular, and commercial art. Yet almost certainly 80% of the art that has ever been made has been tribal, folk, popular, or commercial. There are entire cultures that have no "high" culture whatsoever, and there are immense cultures (the US for instance) where high culture is a spotty thing, but where commercial and folk culture are hyper-dynamic. Subtract rock, blues, c&w, automobile design, fashion, movies, sci-fi, magazines, TV, pulp fiction, etc from "American culture" and you don't have a lot left. Something, but not much. Your notion that most performers don't qualify as artists strikes me as an almost-equally major flaw. For one thing, there's a "performance" aspect to all the arts -- a novel is a kind of performance, after all, and so is a painting. There's the blurriness of categories of performance, for another. Standup comedians often come up with their own material, improv actors and clowns do too, and how about singer-songwriters who perform their own stuff? There's a practical, on-the-ground matter: many composers will tell you that such-and-such a performer of his/her stuff is a "great artist." During her great years, the ballerina Suzanne Farrell never did anything but execute Balanchine's steps -- yet if you were to go to Lincoln Center and say "For the sake of my theory, I have decided that Suzanne Farrell wasn't an artist," you'd be hectored out of town. She was a great star. There's the cultural problem: the division between "composer" and "performer" is clear-cut only in a limited number of art forms, and in a limited number of cultures, and even then you have to take it case by case. And then there's the historical problem, which is that art probably originated in pre-history as performance: storytelling, dancing, drumming, singing, etc. All that preceded "composition." In other words, performance isn't tangential to creativity. It's central, essential. "Composition" came along later. Happy to agree that there are degrees of creativity, but I really think it has to be taken on a c