Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tone Is Everything, Part 2

A Crap Writer?
Why is tone everything in art? It's because tone is what makes you want or not want to spend time with a given novel, recording, movie, painting. Tone is how the basic attitude or sensibility of the artist is communicated. If you like that attitude then you can forgive blemishes and if you don't like that attitude then no virtues of technique or narrative will redeem things for you. This is why you can go to Amazon and Ernest Hemingway will get no shortage of negative ratings. Ernest Frickin' Hemingway! I'm guessing that's because they don't like his stoic world-weary tone and terse, seen-it-all dialogue. Which I happen to love, and which allow plot lines to be more subtle and naturalistic. So, 5 stars from me, and 2 from someone else. Here's another example from literature. I saw a Kate Atkinson novel displayed on the Staff Picks shelf at the local bookstore and decided to give it a go. After 30 pages or so I could tell that there were places where the author meant to be hip or funny but I didn't find it hip or funny. At that point the virtues of the plot were irrelevant, and I bailed out. Tone and taste are interrelated concepts, aren't they? Almost two ways of saying the same thing.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sam Phillips: I Need Love



  And I need love
Not some sentimental prison
I need God
Not the political church
I need fire
To melt the frozen sea inside me
I need love

Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Memoir


I enjoy thinking up names for my memoir -- a book, I should add, that I will never write. It turns out I like naming this project much better than I enjoy remembering episodes from my life, an activity that is always faintly depressing even when the memories are good. That said, my first choice is Good In Theory, and my second choice is Slightly Unorthodox.

Update, 12-30-16: How about this one? In the Flesh.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Joan Mitchell's Concluding Vocabulary

Joan Mitchell, Little Weeds II, 1992, color lithograph on three sheets, 9 1/4 x 21 inches
We happened upon a really interesting show of Joan Mitchell prints in Litchfield, Connecticut, over the weekend. It featured Mitchell's later prints, and it was quite energetic and inviting. Motivated to look further into her work, I went to the Joan Mitchell Foundation website and came upon this exquisite print, created in the last year of her life. Looking at it I thought of something my friend Judith Trepp, a creator of minimalist abstracts, told me. "I attempt in my individual 'language and words,' she said 'to bring forth a non-verbal alphabet." I think all artists do this, but especially those whose work tends toward abstraction. If this is true, what was Joan Mitchell saying just months or weeks from her death? Maybe that life is a dance and weeds aren't always weeds.

Click on the Judith Trepp label below for my various posts on Judith's work.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Today In Technological Utopianism: Driverless Cars

By all accounts, driverless cars are coming soon and will transform civilization. They said that about the Segway too, but this prediction seems a bit more plausible. Yet, how will they improvise when the situation demands it? Perhaps it won't be needed because all vehicles will communicate in perfect intuitive harmony and synchronization, rather like swarming hordes of worker ants.

There is one prospect that offers an unequivocal improvement: When the Rapture comes there won't be any car accidents resulting from drivers being plucked from their seats! Many cars will arrive at church parking lots empty, which means many plates of deviled eggs will go bad in the back seat, but this is better than the carnage that might have ensued during the era of human-driven cars.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"A Certain Alienated Majesty"


Did you know that Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first person to make the case for blogging. OK, not in so many words. But he did want you to trust your instincts about what you have to say and think you can offer to the world. This classic passage from "Self-Reliance" explains why.
"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Morandi Still Life


I need peace. You need peace. Right? This Morandi still life will help us get there. This is a high quality image, but still nothing can replace the power of seeing paintings in person, where they have tangible vibrational force. Be well.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tom Petty Sings Dylan's "License To Kill"


Hey, I almost forgot. Something really great happened last week when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. By my informal count 70 percent of the commentaries I encountered thought it was reason for celebration and 30 thought it was a travesty -- because what Dylan does is songwriting not "literature." Jesus. Lighten up. One prominent novelist snarked out a Tweet saying "I get it, reading books is hard." No, I get it: Your words will never get inside people's heads and hearts and change their lives like Dylan's have, and you don't like it.

Before the 60s there was no such thing as a pop song that had the scope and ambition that Dylan brought to the game, exemplified so well in "License To Kill," from Infidels, a really strong album from 1983. This song explores how the anthropocentric domination model of civilization, closely related to unbalanced patriarchal structures, is destroying our planet, our home.

He worships at an alter of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection he's fulfilled
Well, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way
But there's a woman on my block
She just sits there as night grows still
And she says, Who's gonna take away his
License to kill?

What a performance from Tom Petty and the band! Filmed at the 1993 concert in Madison Square Garden celebrating 30 years since Dylan's first album.

UPDATE: 10-27
In a pleasant turn of events Krista Tippett's On Being re-posted my essay on Bob Dylan to their Facebook page as a way to acknowledge Bob's prize. I'm glad they liked the piece well enough to bring it back like that. It's called "Bob Dylan: Old Testament Language, Beat Poetics, and a Theology of Service." I originally titled it "Bob Dylan's Beautiful Calvinism," but they drew upon one of my sentences to re-title it. I like it. Check it out here and send the link to your friends!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Visualizing November 9th


Serenity Now!

Well, I'm back online here at Art & Argument after a technical glitch with Blogger left me sidelined for a few days. So what can I report about what's transpired this week? I can report that my affirmation (below) to "think about art not politics" was about as effective as when Seinfeld's Frank Costanza would bellow SERENITY NOW! in a futile effort to keep his blood pressure from rising. Did I think about Trump? Yes, I thought about Trump.

What I thought about was how Republicans are crying hypocrisy about the outrage over Trump's sexual assault pattern because Bill Clinton was, in their view, just as bad. But this misses the point. As far as this liberal is concerned I hardly needed to know about Trump's sordid sexual behavior to consider him unfit for office! He could be as upright in his private life as George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama are, and he still shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the White House. His fathomless ignorance, his blinding self-regard, his vellum-thin skin, his unhinged tweeting, his obsessive need to dominate, his reckless encouragement of racism and xenophobia, his disturbing trafficking in conspiracy theories, his authoritarian threats of jailing his opponent -- all these and more are enough for me. Of course many of these relate to why he is so screwed up personally.

Monday, October 10, 2016

My Affirmation


Salvatore del Deo, "Low Tide, Long Point"

(deep breath)
I will think about art, not politics.
I will think about art, not politics.
I will think about art, not politics.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Alejandro Escovedo: Thirteen Years


This, my friends, is one helluva breakup song. Last year, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin famously engaged in process of "conscious uncoupling" wherein they separated with equanimity and mutuality. I think that it's more common for there to be a power imbalance and for one person to get dumped and the other to do the dumping. This beautiful, beautiful song from Alejandro Escovedo seems to be written from the former perspective. Recorded live in Austin in 1996. Turn it up.

Big, Slow, and Fragile


Big weather events get me thinking about how people on the "North American" continent say one thousand years ago dealt with such situations. Why? Well, because for modern post-industrial cities and other high population areas hurricanes and major snowstorms are a hassle and a danger precisely because of the way that contemporary society differs from certain societies of millennia ago. Essentially modern society is massive and slow moving and built on a fragile edifice of high technology and extended energy grids.

I'm guessing that indigenous, sustenance-based or hunting and gathering people didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing. They could probably sense a big weather event two or three days out which would give them plenty of time to tear down their encampment and bug out to the safest place around, which centuries of experience has shown to be perfect for waiting out the upcoming hurricane or tornado or blizzard. And waiting it out is key. There were no office parks that needed to be driven to deal with looming deadlines. There were no power lines and blackouts, no online world to crash and wreak havoc.

There's the idea that in the absence of modern civilization and technology people went around suffering all the time. Nonsense. They knew perfectly well how to adapt themselves comfortably to their environments and to not just get by but to enjoy themselves in the process.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Ultimate Con

The argument from Trump supporters boils down to: he's a lying, conning, narcissistic jerk, but he'll be our lying, conning, narcissistic jerk. To which I say, the con man has pulled the ultimate con when he has convinced you that while he used to be conning you he isn't conning you now. Miraculously after 70 years he has awakened to the need to work for the well-being of others!

And how about the Alicia Machado thing? Somehow he's going to intimidate China and Iran and bend them to his iron will, but a squabble with a former Miss Universe has him blasting desperate and unhinged Tweets in the middle of the night.