Saturday, October 31, 2015

Irene Lipton Detail

Focusing on a detail is a good way to enjoy and understand a work of art or even an artist's work in general. When we look at an entire work just online, especially a larger work, say more than 24 inches high or wide, it can be hard to get a sense for the brushwork, which often is a huge part of what a painting is about. Think of a musician's tone and attack, or a writer's way with a sentence, regardless of what the overall point or message is. Even when we stand in front of a work, we might be tempted to just look at the whole thing, rather than portions or "passages." Let's say you are finding a work difficult. There's a good chance that at least part of the work will appeal or be graspable to you. When I taught, and we were reading a difficult text, I would tell students to find just one paragraph, or even one sentence that made sense to them. That's your way in. That's your platform to build on.

The image above is a detail from a 24" x 24" Irene Lipton painting that we own. I took the photo the other day. As you can see, it represents about one sixth of the total area of the piece. A few thoughts.

1. A big reason I like this part of the painting is simply because I like the shade and tone of that red she uses. Sometimes we overthink paintings. It's good to just take pleasure in the pure sensual or aesthetic qualities of a piece.

2. By looking at a detail we can see how Lipton treats a canvas as a palimpsest, with the traces, the echoes of earlier markings evident in the final piece.

3. This would make a fine painting in and of itself, wouldn't it? Sometimes painters will do a large, quick abstract, and then select a portion to develop into a coherent piece. Sometimes musical composers just keep a recorder running while they improvise and fool around with licks and melodies. Sometimes something will emerge that's worthy of further development.

4. The upper left quarter of the painting, the area from which this was taken, is much more spare than the rest of the canvas. A good reason for not treating this as its own piece, is because by including it in the larger composition it provides an interesting contrast, strengthening both it and the work as a whole.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Aging Face

Looking in the mirror has not been getting any funner as the decades add up. The actual mirror, not the metaphorical mirror -- that one has never been friendlier and more forgiving. But those are some serious "Duke Ellington" bags under my eyes that I see in the actual one.

Here's some strong writing about the aging of faces from Alyssa Pelish at the Smart Set website:
As I considered the changes in my own face, my eyes were soon drawn to the lines in other people’s faces, as if searching for a benchmark of normalcy, a point of comparison. What I discovered, though, was the variability of a phenomenon I had never before bothered to notice. Some brows, I now saw, were entirely furrowed, really ploughed-in deep parallel lines that never even began to fade when the eyebrows lowered, as if that fairy Queen Mab who hectors sleepers had driven a team of oxen back and forth over the course of many nights. On the face of a still pink-cheeked colleague, the three vertical slashes across the brow seemed to me like scars, the marks of some violent accident. Others, still, bore only faint traces, the sole suggestion of age on a youthful face — and my eyes would flicker back to these less certain marks, waiting to see if they did in fact belie age in a person who otherwise seemed untouched by time. So many faces appeared more cobwebbed than lined, while others seemed momentarily smudged — as if the vaguest impression of their own palm had remained upon their forehead. How unfixed the face was. How perpetually the lines of age would continue to shape it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crazy Talk

Trump is supposed to be the unserious Republican, yet he bats a higher percentage of getting things right than the quote-unquote serious candidates. I would venture that Trump out-performs a stopped clock, which, as we know, is correct twice a day. The other candidates have simply smashed the clock to bits. What does it mean when the "serious" candidate insists there is nothing we could or should do to minimize destructive climate change? Or that somehow Obama "lost" Iraq and W "kept us safe"? Or that Kim Davis is the new Rosa Parks? Aside from Trump and sometimes Rand Paul, all 19 (14? 15?) Republican candidates are slaves to party orthodoxy, which is why Trump, ironically, is the most reasonable Republican option. What about the other "outsider" candidate, Ben Carson? The dude is calm and soft-spoken, yes, with a successful medical career. But he's actually a bigger narcissist than Trump ("I need Secret Service because I'm an existential threat to secular liberals"). And I know that no one says batshit crazy anymore, but Carson is batshit crazy (examples too numerous to cite here).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Forsythia In Autumn

Somerville, Mass, 10-23-15

Self Improvement and Me

Chatting with my wife and nephew last weekend, I made reference to things I learned from my yoga practice. This was met with raised eyebrows. You don't strike me as the yoga type offered my nephew. Hey, I responded, I did yoga for six months something like fifteen years ago! But the truth can no longer be denied: I guess I'm not the self improvement type. I mean, I love the idea of self improvement, but I never quite seem to get around to it.

Well, I guess there is one area of improvement that I try to practice, and that's to become more open-minded and less judgmental as advance into my AARP years. This is something completely within my control and there's no excuse for not doing it. I should add: less judgmental toward others but also myself. At the same time I want to become more discerning about what beliefs and actions appear to me best suited for the happiness and well-being of myself and others -- understood in the broadest sense. So it's not just a matter of accepting everything, a stance of whatever. Above all it's a balancing act (as when I watch the news and thoughts of, yes, hatred enter my mind, thus precipitating a channel change to HGTV). Getting the balance right is what it's all about. And there's no time when that balance isn't in question.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Random Music Notes: John Trudell and More

1. Metallica are the nice guys of metal, are they not?

2. The best band names ever are The Rolling Stones and Pavement. The worst include Death Cab for Cutie and . . . the Beatles? Yes, a horrible name but they were so frickin' great that they made the name into a good one -- by force of will and charisma.

3. One of the most cherished jazz stories involves Coltrane and Miles. Coltrane, who established the long-form, way-way-out-there solo as a jazz idiom, is said to have said: "Miles, sometimes I just don't know how to end a solo." To which Miles replied, "Take the horn out of your mouth."

4. The Lakota poet and activist John Trudell is the best spoken word guy we have. Here he is in 1992, doing "Rocking the Rez," from his masterpiece AKA Graffiti Man. We're "earth stars, with jail break in our hearts." This thing has only 675 views! No justice. Turn it up.

5. Back in the 70s there were a bunch of folk singers who were uncool but very popular, guys like Jim Croce, John Denver, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, and so on. They were actually quite talented, but never came across as artistes, a la Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, etc.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sebastian Smee: The Allure and Mystery of Portraits

The best things are both known and unknowable, like your cat, your significant other, or the ocean. Here's the Boston Globe's chief art writer Sebastian Smee on Titian's "Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese," painted in 1542:
Great portraits call out to us in ways that landscapes, for instance, do not. Simply, they show fellow human beings. And so it’s natural that we project onto them “fellow feeling.” We may look at Ranuccio Farnese, for instance, and think of our brother, our son, even of our own 12-year-old selves. But what gives the waves of fellow feeling between us and this portrait their electrical charge is, I think, something beyond projections, beyond explanations; something ungraspable: the tender untouchable pride of a face like a distant planet.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sunday, October 11, 2015

At Home In the Natural World

A big point for E. O. Wilson is that we lose a lot if we spend no time in nature, and that we would be wise to set aside -- now -- as much natural conservation land as possible. A lot. More than we could imagine being a lot. We are happy in nature, because we are at home in the natural world. We have evolved to be a part of it, says Wilson. I define nature as that not made by man, not made by human hands. Sure, there is nowhere on earth not impacted at least somewhat by man. This is why they call this era the Anthropocene. However, just because even a national forest has some human imprint, doesn't mean it's completely man made, like a mall. Emerson said that in nature we are returned to reason and faith. Why? Because nature isn't neurotic, or petty, or deceitful. Nature shows that at base existence is correct and good. Nature can be violent but it's not malicious. New generations are becoming at home in the cyber world. While it isn't controlled by anyone in particular, it is still fully human, and therefore smaller than the world that existed before humans even knew themselves as such.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Constantine P. Cavafy

Here I am, way into my middle years, and somehow I had never even heard of the poet Constantine Cavafy, or his gorgeous, poignant elegy of 1911, "The God Forsakes Antony." What happened was, I was listening to and researching Leonard Cohen's "Alexandra Leaving," co-written with Sharon Robinson, and discovered it was based on the tone and verbiage of Cavafy's poem, which is not so much a lament for what is lost but an encouragement for those who remain. He refers to Alexandria, Egypt. Here it is:
The God Forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Just Another Spectacular Sunset

This was taken in Somerville the other night, but at this very moment it looks like this somewhere on earth. Beauty without end. Rolling beauty.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Go-Betweens: "When People Are Dead"

You've never heard a song quite like this one. Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens adapted a poem by little known poet Marian Stout. It tells the story of a death in the family from the point of view of a child. Great playing from the band, sensitive and majestic. 
They said you bury 
the dead.
What's buried? 
Rosie said 
something you do 
when people are dead.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jon Imber's Maximal Abstracts

Jon Imber, Heart of the Harbor, 2007, oil on panel, 30 x 30 in.

Jon Imber, The Botanist, 2013, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 in.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Highly Miscellaneous

1. I've been meaning to do a shout-out post for the writer Sadie Stein who blogs at the Paris Review. She imparts that David Sedaris Effect. When you read her you go, hey, she's just talking about her daily life and the little stuff that happens and it's dryly very funny and even a bit profound, like when her husband took exception to her always singing along with the music in stores, and how it turned into a big thing. I can do that, you think. Maybe. At any rate, please read her. She's great. At once urbane and accessible.

2. There's a really good profile of the biologist E. O. Wilson running on PBS. Wilson made his career studying ants and then extrapolating out to humanity (and BTW ants are fascinating). He might have even coined the term biodiversity, and is known for developing the field of sociobiology. What is the role of evolved instinct in shaping society? That's the question. It seems to me that all human endeavor, even the highest forms such as art, sport, worship, gastronomy, science, etc., are elaborations, elevations, sublimations, redirections of instinct.

3. Finally saw the movie Whiplash, or at least the final three-quarters of it. Let's make one thing clear: The character of Fletcher is not a "tough love" teacher but a sadist and a psychopath. Yes, I liked how the drummer, Andrew, turns the table on Fletcher at the end, thus "winning" their psychological battle. But frankly the movie doesn't really seem to understand jazz at all. Looking around the web to investigate this point, I see lots on comments saying, Jesus, lighten up, it's just a movie. OK, I get it. But here's a great interview with Peter Erskine analyzing the film from the perspective of a master jazz drummer and teacher. I'll remark on a couple things. Conservatory jazz is way, way more creative, varied, and cooperative than depicted here. I mean, that chart of "Caravan" they keep playing is dull, dull, dull -- it sounds like a high school band. No group would ever play that at a big concert showcase, as they do in the film. And no one can determine tempo within just two beats, as Fletcher is shown doing here. A better movie would have Andrew walking out on Fletcher and the conservatory, moving downtown, wrestling with self-doubt, but then finding himself in a creative, collective environment, of the kind that exists all over NYC.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Poem For My Cat

I thought you were begging for food
But what you wanted was love.
Can you forgive me?

M. Bogen
October '15