Saturday, November 29, 2014

Where Did You Go?

Open up, it's me.
Yes, me.
Where did you go?
I've been here the whole time.
Why couldn't I see you?
I don't know.

M. Bogen
November 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks for the Jazz Creators

Clifford Brown, American trumpet master, 1930 - 1956

I have so much to be thankful for, not least family and friends who are to a person of fine character, spirit, and intelligence, providing the foundation on which all material blessings are built and find meaning. On this Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge my gratefulness for music in general and jazz in particular. My love for music has been steady for many decades; indeed, at this point the gifts of music appear to be inexhaustible. In this post I'll mention a few jazz-related reasons for gratitude.

1. I am grateful for the achievements of the jazz masters, for they taught me an important human lesson. When I was introduced as a teen to the music of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins it hit me,(a white middle class kid) almost immediately that racism was a lie. Here was the most sophisticated, creative, and intelligent music I'd ever heard, and it was created by Black men and women. Case closed.

2. I'll always be grateful that Clifford Brown lived among us for a short but brilliant time. With every improvised solo he showed that inspiration is real, that technique can be the vehicle for almost impossible beauty. There's a reason that his most famous composition is called Joy Spring.

3. The Great American Songbook is a great gift to the world, and its jazz interpreters speak to me in a timeless way. If I had to choose one example, I would choose Ella Fitzgerald singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It's good to live in a world where this is possible.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chaim Soutine Expressionist Portraits

Polish Woman, 1922

Woman with Arms Folded, 1929

Portrait of Maria Lani, 1929

Portrait of Emile Lejeune, 1925

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More El Lissitzky

El Lissitzky was part of the Russian Constructivist movement that flourished in the early days of the Revolution, around 1920 to 1930, and as such is intended to have a political component. Should I apologize because I have little idea of or appreciation for what the politics is about but just love the way the artwork looks? This reminds me of Nina Simone, whose masterful singing means more to me than her politics, which I do appreciate, but . . . .

Let me take a stab at the Constructivists and their oeuvre anyway. From my recent research I see that they intended art to come down from its perch as an elite pursuit and possession. Further, the subject matter of art would be no longer be flowers, still lifes, landscapes, and portraits of the wealthy. Instead, art would be constructed out of basic formal building blocks, mostly geometric. And because art is no longer elitist, it would merge with design and architecture to create a holistic environment for all people that is aesthetically sophisticated. Constructivism did indeed go on to have a huge influence on architecture and design, especially as expressed in the Bauhaus and International styles, and even later in the New Wave of the 70s and 80s, as in this red and black propaganda poster, where the red wedge represents the victorious red army. By the 70s state socialism was on the way out, but the visual style was as big as ever.


To the extent that the Constructivists merged their style with the Social Realism more favored by the Soviets, they certainly appeared political, but that's not the part of their aesthetic that survived and thrived throughout the 20th century, nor is that the part I like. I like beautiful abstractions like this one, which had the vaguely socialist title, The New Man. What's striking to me is that for all the talk of socialism and the machine age, the tone of many El Lissitzky works is, at least to me, quite soothing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Beyond the Backlash: Imaginative Empathy

First there was the self esteem backlash. You know, in response to awards and medals being handed out right and left for simply showing up, the preferred response became to tell kids they're worthless unless they achieve all sorts of things. Thanks, Tiger Mom. Now we're in the empathy backlash. This started, I think, when President Obama praised Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer as being empathetic. She distanced herself from that remark, but it was too late. Now we are told that feeling someone else's pain is a waste of time. But there might be something to this.

The problem is the emphasis on feeling. I honestly don't feel pain for the various victims around the world (after all, I sleep at night). But if I employ what is called imaginative empathy, I can think my way into their circumstances and imagine what it is like to see through their eyes. I don't have to lose loved ones to a drone attack to know that I would react as people in areas of strife do, pledging fierce opposition to the perpetrators of the attack. Imaginative empathy assumes that at a fundamental level we are all pretty similar and respond to circumstances in similar ways. Employment of imaginative empathy can help us to then shape policies and pursue strategies that are more just.

Sometimes experiencing something can kick-start our imaginative empathy. Once when I was unemployed I bought generic razor blades to save money. The trouble was that they were lousy quality and as I was preparing for an interview I cut my face, thus lowering my chances, however slightly, of making a good impression. An extremely minor incident, but it only took me a little imagination to extrapolate out and see that environmental or external conditions faced by the poor actually impede their ability to compete on a level playing field.

The trick is to require as few kick starts as possible. I remember how Sarah Palin suddenly became a champion of special ed after the birth of her son, Trig, who has Down syndrome. Preferably one could see the value of special ed programs without the direct experience. On the left, we can envision any number of people who don't understand the burden of excessive or pointless business regulations until they experience it themselves. A non-business person, my own awareness around this was kick-started when I learned about the way the growth of the craft beer industry in Massachusetts is being suppressed by regulations that favor the large distributors.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Eric Fredine Landscapes

More great stuff from The Photography Files blog: Eric Fredine landscapes highlighting the unity of water and sky.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Abdullah Ibrahim: Zikr

In The Music of Life, the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote:
What does music teach us? Music helps us to train ourselves in harmony, and it is this that is the magic secret behind music. When you hear music that you enjoy, it tunes you and puts you in harmony with life. Therefore man needs music; he longs for music. Many say they do not care for music, but these have not heard music. If they really heard music it would touch their souls, and then certainly they could not help loving it. If not, it would only mean that they had not heard music sufficiently, and had not made their hearts calm and quiet to listen to it and to enjoy and appreciate it. Besides, music develops that faculty by which one learns to appreciate all that is good and beautiful in the form of art and science, and in the form of music and poetry one can appreciate every aspect of beauty.
The performance here is by the great South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim. Aside from being gorgeous, moving, and powerful, this song demonstrates some nice musicology. Zikr is a form of Islamic prayer, yet the melody has strong Christian tones, reminding me of the classic hymn The First Noel. And the chanting, I think, must have some indigenous roots, too. This, my friends, is globalization done right. Oh, and perhaps it goes without saying, music done right. Let the sound pour over and through you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


M. Bogen photo of graffiti, "Beauty," Washington St., Somerville, MA, Nov. 11, 2014

My Symposium

In this religion, devoid of devils
Glowing with light made of light
We receive gifts of our own giving

Listening to the sound of the tongue not burning
Wondering what’s worth being martyred for
Ruling out acts of the invisible hand

The sediment of the pond has settled
A pebble shines bright on the bottom
As children play above at skipping stones

M. Bogen
March 2012

Monday, November 10, 2014

Buddhism 101: Love Is a Rose

Years ago -- decades ago -- when I first learned about Buddhism I came up with the idea that if I had no opinions, my life would be better and more peaceful and I would cause fewer conflicts. What I misunderstood was that opinions are fine -- in fact one should have lots of strong opinions to be fully alive -- but one should not be attached to opinions. Attachment stunts growth as much as absence does.

Years and a lot of knowledge later, I was teaching Intro to World Religions at a local college. As I prepared to introduce the concept of attachment, it occurred to me that a cute stunt would be to quote Neil Young before going on to the real lesson. What happened, though, was that when I quoted Neil ("Love is a rose but you better not pick it / It only grows when it's on the vine / Handful of thorns and you know you missed it / Lose your love when you say the word 'mine'"), the students perked right up, and I realized that that wasn't the warm up to the lesson: That was the lesson.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Want to Live in a Farmscraper

Architect's rendering for "farmscraper" project in Shenzhen, China
Writing at, Kimberly Mok says:
Growing urban populations in the next few decades will mean greater pressures on agricultural production, water use and soil health. One potential solution that's been bandied around are vertical farms, though it's debatable whether they're just a pie in the sky -- or necessarily made feasible once stagnating rates of future food production, rising energy costs and soil degradation are finally factored in. Undaunted by the debate, French design firm Vincent Callebaut Architects recently unveiled another urban vertical "farmscraper" masterplan concept, this time for the expanding city of Shenzhen, China. Dubbed Asian Cairns, the project consists of six towers of pebble-like structures that have been stacked together to create a productive, mixed-use project.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(These Are a Few of My) Least Favorite Things

I know what you're thinking: He's a pretty positive guy. He even posted an Otis Redding video on the day his preferred party was experiencing a bloodbath. And look at the great artists he spotlights. Guilty! But beneath this upbeat exterior is a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about things he doesn't like. So for the record, and in the interest of verisimilitude, here are a few of my least favorite things:

1. Russian nesting dolls

2. Flavored coffee

3. Baz Luhrman movies

4. Leaf blowers

5. Absence of the serial comma

6. People holding up John 3:16 signs at sporting events

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)

On Election Day, a song with zero political content, to remind us that there's something good in feeling good, and that great music will help us to carry on. Thank you, Otis! Your time was short but your soul was huge.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Judith Trepp Paintings and Drawings

All painting is a matter of knowing when to keep going and when to quit. The minimalist has the wisdom to quit sooner than later and the nerve to believe that a piece can be powerful without a profusion of information. The minimalist says, this is it, this is what I am saying, and I believe that this simple statement will blossom with meaning and feeling for many, many years. I first encountered Judith Trepp's work in a solo show at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum several years ago. That show featured elegant calligraphic works like the one second from the bottom here. It made a big impression on me. The two types of pieces shown here are nearly inverses of each other, with one featuring much "blank" or neutral space and the other, none. But they both share clarity and strong intent. (View new post on Trepp's work here.)