Monday, January 30, 2017

Yes, You Like Jazz, #2: Dianne Reeves Sings "Skylark"

Not even close to pushing the envelope here. The most covered standard of the 20th century performed by one of the very best jazz singers we have. What's not to like? Nothing. There's nothing not to like.
UPDATE 1-31-17
Maybe I need to rethink the premise of this new feature. My thinking is that some jazz is just so beautiful that no one could deny its power and excellence. But then, over the weekend my wife declared, "You know, I've come to realize I don't really like muffins." How do you not like a muffin? If that's possible then it must also be possible to not like Dianne Reeves singing "Stardust."

Friday, January 27, 2017

Too Perfect

Have you noticed how Trump's signature looks like a lie detector responding to sustained falsehoods? President Polygraph.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Malevich: The First Abstractionist?

Was the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich the first pure abstractionist? The Impressionists moved toward abstraction by blurring things and taking liberties with the perception of light and figurative forms, while the Cubists took a hammer to representation, shattering and rearranging things into angled, multi-dimensional shards. But Malevich didn't bother with representation of actual objects at all. Beginning around 1913 he introduced a style he called Supremacist, so named because pure form and color would reign supreme over depictions of the world around us. He worked at the time of the Soviet revolution, and the Party leaders at first liked the Supremacist movement because it seemed to disregard the past as irrelevant to the contours of the glorious future. (Revolutionary totalitarians are always big on erasing the past, which is why the Khmer Rouge created a new calendar starting at Year Zero when they took power. Trump's authoritarian take on this maneuver is to conjure a non-existent, mythical past.) Malevich himself was more of a mystical Christian. At any rate, before too long the Soviet leaders decided that abstract art was degenerate and the only acceptable art would be propagandist Social Realist art. Their loss. Does anyone know of earlier pure abstraction?


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

And Now, a Word From John Dewey

"We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience we are prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything."

- John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Some Perspective: A Really Old Tree

South Beach, January 18, 2017

No, Not "Legitimate"

I've been maintaining an uneasy silence this week. I'm alarmed and outraged by the reality of a President Trump, but haven't felt I could write about it without descending into a total rant. Still not sure I can. But let me start by saying all this sanctimonious prattle about the great tradition of the "peaceful transfer of power" is a bunch of crap. If this were Hillary arriving in Washington with the same lack of transparency and the same reality of, and potential for, historically off-the-charts conflicts of interests and Constitutional violations, and all the while having benefited from Russian intrusion into the election, to say nothing of James Comey's thumb on the scale, the Republicans would have impeached her yesterday. Yesterday. So no, I don't see him as a "legitimate" president, and this isn't because of a disagreement about policy. I would accept a Mike Pence or Ted Cruz, grudgingly. But by accepting Trump we normalize a man who rose to power through the spread of conspiracy theories, a man who has toyed with racism to an extent that can only damage our nation. I just can't go there. Even if he "brings back some jobs," if we legitimize him we will have surrendered ourselves to a megalomaniac authoritarian. All those Republicans who, during the primaries, called him an ignorant, narcissistic, bullying, con man who is temperamentally unfit for office now say it doesn't matter. Well, it still does to me, and I wish it would to them.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yinka Shonibare Pushes Back, Playfully

Yinka Shonibare plays with the tropes of colonialism and empire, utilizing Afro/Indonesian fabrics and headless figures to invite us to think again about globalism, past and present. It is my conviction that "idea art" or "conceptual art" should be able to stand on its own, to trigger a visual/emotional response without explanation, which doesn't mean that there aren't things one could explain about a work, if one so desired. Here's what the artist said in a recent interview with Jeffrey Brown on the PBS NewsHour:
I think it’s very important for the audience to be able to actually engage with the work. I don’t want people to run away from my work, you know? I want people to be attracted to the work. I want to draw them in. And I think color is one way of doing that. And then you can, if you wish to say something, people might be more sympathetic or be willing to engage and listen to you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yes, You Like Jazz, #1: "Flamingo"

I do in fact like noise jazz, and mathematical jazz, and free jazz, but I like the melodic kind, too. A lot. In this series I will share lyrical jazz, beginning with the exquisite 1996 collaboration of Stephane Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani, "Flamingo."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


One thing made quite clear by the recent Trump-Streep dust up is that we liberals don't give the President Elect nearly enough credit for his Wildean wit, to say nothing of his almost superhuman grace under pressure. Mea culpa.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Oak Leaf on Powder

M. Bogen, morning after the snow, January 8, 2016
This is how this iPhone photo came out, with no doctoring. The snow was pure white, of course, but in shadow. So I think this remarkable deep blue was produced by the combination of shadow and reflection from the bright blue sky. Oak trees never lose all their leaves until the winter is over, so this nearly weightless leaf blew over from my neighbor's tree and came to rest on our back patio.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pain: A Questionnaire

When did you first notice the pain?
Is the pain sensitive to the touch?
Is the pain sharp or dull?
How would you rate the intensity of the pain?
Is the pain steady or intermittent?
Is the pain localized or does it spread out?
Does the pain increase when you move a certain way?
Does the pain remind you of other pain you've had?
Is the pain tolerable?
Do you need something for the pain?
Have you mentioned the pain to anyone else?
Do you worry that the pain will start again?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Beware of Futurism

Encountered this Kenneth Clark quote at Terry Teachout's excellent arts blog.
 “Sweeping, confident articles on the future seem to me, intellectually, the most disreputable of all forms of public utterance.”
Might we also say the same about sweeping proclamations about the past? Is the past as unknowable as the future? Reputable historians do their best, but so much of experience must remain out of reach. Heck, that's true of the present, too.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Consider the Ouroboros

I once posed to my subconscious at bedtime to experience a meaningful dream during the night. At some point I awakened with the vivid image of a dragon swallowing its tail imprinted on my mind. I figured that that had to be a mythological archetype, and soon discovered it is known as the Ouroboros (often shown with a snake not a dragon) and has appeared in every culture since the dawn of recorded history. This seems like a good time to consider this, since the Ouroboros encourages us to take the largest perspective possible, which is the direct antithesis to contemporary politics, which seems to encourage us to take the smallest perspective possible (especially through the emphasis on getting elected as opposed to actually governing). The Ouroboros symbolizes the eternal cosmic cycle of destruction and regeneration, and to my eyes, it communicates that life is at once infinite and paradoxically contained within itself.

Jung, naturally, had something to say about it. Let's give him the last word for now. He places it in the context of alchemical philosophy, which is the source for the two images I have chosen.
The alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we moderns do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This 'feed-back' process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man's unconscious.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Two Mary Oliver Poems

Dualism is the lingua franca of politics, and that's why politics annoys so very, very much. So as 2017 launches I'm wrestling with things like how to resist without being reactionary, how to be politically active without being small or unwisely ideological. Now seems like a good time to take a break from the wrestling match and spend a couple minutes with Mary Oliver's expansive and generous poetry, and in so doing see life properly, in the way that poetry helps us to see.

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.