Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

Full piece here.

-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (an unfortunate photo at the link).

-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast; another attempt at cultural criticism.

In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me is how much talk there is about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new; an isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.

The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces. He offers you an invitation and a return to part of your Self. He can make you whole again within the work produced by his Self.

Jeff Koons is a brand.

Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, and the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.

As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair, here are a few quotes from the piece:

Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!

“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.’

You need an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days:

‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’

And:

‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’

Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives? Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?

Everyone’s an artist, these days.

Also, you must establish modernist credentials for the brand:

‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’

Yes, dear reader, Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:

‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’

And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:

‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”

Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’

Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.

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Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Some quotes from Koons:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it. I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: WomanGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

 

After The Words Are Written-Some Links

I find myself drawn to photos of empty fields and abandoned buildings, with good composition and horizon lines meeting somewhere far-off; quiet places with natural forces at work.

Perhaps I’m fairly introverted, caught in the rushes of daily life.  Such images can even seem like indulgences.

Don’t pity the traveler in a train observing himself observing the passing scenery; snatches of a clean suburb whose gabled rooves give way to rows of derelict houses, given over to the falling rain.

After the words are written, the desire for awe, beauty, and symmetry remain.

-Some links on ideas and trying to contextualize the modern Self:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece which reflects upon the modernist influence.  From the Atlantic piece.

‘At their best, the Schiffs can be models for renewing the unquenched aspiration of a century ago, to place art and its imaginative demands at the center of an effort to build a more humane future’

Humane.  Human.  Human rights.  Make it new.  Break with the past.  Shape man’s destiny upon new foundations of knowledge, explore new possibilities, and perhaps shape men themselves.

Why, there’s a whole philosophy under there.  Not a religion necessarily, and not always moral claims to knowledge, but a whole framework nonetheless. Well, some of it, anyways.

Lileks responds:

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc.  Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity?  Reverence?  Good old Longfellow?

Food for thought on this Friday.  Science, technology, mathematics are doing quite fine, and moving ahead, but what about the humanities?

Full interview here.

From Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

Via Mick Hartley:  ‘The Geometry of Emptiness: A Journey Through France’s Diagonal du Vide

-Photographer Ben Marcin has a series called ‘Last House Standing.’ Solitary row-homes…the only ones left on the block.

-From Popular Mechanics, ‘Creepy Abandoned Military Sites From Around the World.

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Repost-The Cresting Of A Hipster Wave?-From The New York Observer: ‘Brooklyn Is Now Officially Over: The Ascendance of Brooklyn, the Lifestyle, Above All Else’

Full piece here.

First the Beats, then the Hippies, now the Hipsters?

For many years now, parts of Brooklyn seemed to have become a beacon for people involved in a restless search for culture and authenticity, group-membership and belonging, identity and some sense of purpose. This seems to be in addition to all the other job/career/immigration/mating reasons people have typically moved there.

It used to be a place where working-class people could afford a house.

Mind you, no one ever put-up a neon-sign over Brooklyn, flashing away into the night and visible from the suburbs (unless it was probably done ironically, mocking the ‘crass commercialism’ of a ‘bygone’ and fetishized era), but there have been some interesting demographic shifts going on. The words ‘community’ and ‘craft,’ ‘artisanal’ and ‘fair trade’ get thrown around a lot.

Have hipsters become part of the fabric of the city?

Here’s an interesting piece from Christy Wampole At The Ny Times ‘How To Live Without Irony:’

‘The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool.’

Christian Lorenzten has a less flattering take, in order to get at a more pure definition of ‘cool’:

Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.

Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot.

(Addition: Of course his version of ‘authentic’ seems to be that hipsters haven’t thankfully gone full Lefty).

Below are the Mast brothers, taking that hipster ethos into the business and branding of themselves as chocolate-makers, along with an entirely ‘old-timey’ aesthetic. Few chocolate-makers take pains to mention Mark Twain & Ralph Waldo Emerson:

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It seems the tide may already have receded a bit.

From the Observer:

‘Economic bifurcation has increasingly divided a borough known for its vibrant blend of cultures, classes and races into two different worlds, each with its own set of schools, stores restaurants and bars, with those at the bottom receding from the larger consciousness of Brooklyn identity to the degree that The Wall Street Journal recently labeled Bed-Stuy’s “underserved” those who could not, until now, find a craft beer for under $7. ‘

Has the hipster been good for Brooklyn?

That’s debatable, and it depends on just who we’re talking about. I’m guessing the local anti-hipster perspective found at DieHipster.com represents genuine sentiment and grievance: Their Brooklyn has become a playground for extended childhood. Rents get raised. Locals are pushed-out and overrun. The area gentrifies and can actually become more divided. For all the talk of ‘community’ and ‘authenticity,’ there’s a surprising (or unsurprising, really) naive idealism and post-Boomer narcissism, self-regard, and self-interest amongst the hipster crowd.

All politics is local, and it’s playing out in Brooklyn.

Is the hipster good for free markets?

Theses are some pretty vague terms I’m throwing around. Obviously, some folks are, and Whole Foods is a good example, but I wonder about the creep of collectivism and communalism into the culture more generally.

Here’s a quote I put up before.

The late Jacques Barzun at The American Scholar-’The Cradle Of Modernism‘:

‘For yet another cause of unhappiness was the encroachment of machine industry and its attendant uglification of town and country. The Romanticists had sung in an agrarian civilization; towns were for handiwork and commerce. Industry brought in not factories only, and railroads, but also the city — slums, crowds, a new type of filth, and shoddy goods, commonly known as “cheap and nasty.” And when free public schools were forced on the nation by the needs of industry, a further curse was added: the daily paper, also cheap.’

*I’m aware that this type of cultural criticism and/or ‘sociological analysis’ is often done by those typically invested in abstract categories of ‘culture’ about which I remain skeptical.

**No, I’m not from Brooklyn, and can make no particularly persuasive claims upon it.

Related On This Site: Some Links On 5Pointz, Graffiti, & The Arts–Property Rights & The Rule-Of-Law

Well, art doesn’t need to be in service of a socialist vision, but it can: Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Hipster Romanticism?-From The Atlantic Photo: ‘Adventures Of A Serial Trespasser’

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Hipster hope, artists, collectivists and small business types can’t save it either: A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

Which Lens Are You Using? Some Links

David Hockney ‘On Secret Knowledge: On Rediscovering The Lost Secrets Of The Old Masters’:

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Optical devices were likely common practice more than is commonly known these days, way before the camera, the television etc.

As previously posted:

Just as optics revolutionized the sciences and the boundaries of human knowledge, from Galileo to Newton and onwards, Tim Jenison wonders if optics may have revolutionized the arts as well.

‘But still, exactly how did Vermeer do it? One day, in the bathtub, Jenison had a eureka moment: a mirror. If the lens focused its image onto a small, angled mirror, and the mirror was placed just between the painter’s eye and the canvas, by glancing back and forth he could copy that bit of image until the color and tone precisely matched the reflected bit of reality.’

Good Vermeer page here for a refresher on the Dutch master.

Penn & Teller helped make a documentary which has gotten good reviews, entitled ‘Tim’s Vermeer.

Perhaps only the Girl With The Pearl Earring knows for sure if the painter used such a technique:

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Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane? A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it? A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

Related On This Site: In The Mail: Vivian Maier

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren

Repost-From The New Criterion: ‘What’s So Public About Public Art?’

Full piece here.

A favorite theme on this blog:

‘But what’s so public about public art? Is it “public” simply because it’s stuck in public places? And who asks for it? In a recent interview with Manner of Man Magazine, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland, hits the nail on the head.’

Click through for some good quotes. Why is public art often so bad? What happens when art gets attached with money, and yes, also money through grants?

Is it better just to have a contest?

Are you truly moved by a public art piece? If so, which one?

As paired with this previous post:

Full piece here.

‘But step back a moment. Would ending federal, i.e., taxpayer, i.e., your, money on entities like the NEA, the NEH, and the CPB be a bad thing?’

Here are two good reasons in favor of ending Federal funding:

  1. You will likely aid in making better art. Universities, museums and institutions don’t necessarily get along with the creative genius, nor in making something new. In fact, such institutions can stifle creativity by rewarding and amplifying current tastes and entrenching public sentiment into reefs, creating additional hurdles for talent to get where it’s going. State money, furthermore, is not a necessary condition of good art. In fact, it may be a necessary condition of bad art [addition: we can probably say that bad art is everywhere, but there’s rarely great art coming out of Federally funded programs].
  2. Incentives matter: The self-interested, ideologically driven and less-talented will have incentives to control the Federal bureaucracy and politicize the arts. They’re out there, and if you reward them with cash and status, you’ll get more of them (bad artists, ideologues, politicians and bureaucrats in an unholy cycle of Badness).

No one can speak for all the public, not even the artistic genius. Art-curators, docents, specialists and critics can do good [for art], but sometimes they can do bad. Individual talent, tradition, hard-work, groups of people, ideas, money and opportunities all matter, but how much exactly, is anyone’s guess.

Richard Serra was commissioned to put a piece in Federal Plaza, paid for the public, and some people didn’t like it.

It was removed. Serra felt railroaded. There was a lot of press and drama.

Pretty relevant, I’d say:

Also, this Vincent Gallo interview is funny as hell:

He takes the critics on while wearing an awesome USA track-suit:

Related On This Site: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

They’ve got to keep up with the times:A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art. The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…
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Here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story…A museum industrial complex…more complexes…who are the people museums should be serving? James Panero At The New Criterion: ‘Time to Free NY’s Museums: The Met Responds’

Just One More Brutalist Link Or Two

Via Mick Hartley via the BBC-‘The Brutalist Divide: Concrete Monsters Or Concrete Icons

Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia.  Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.

What were they trying to tell us?

Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well).  Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.

Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.

Personally, I like to think some of these humans being reside at the BBC.


The Architect As Totalitarian:

‘At the exhibition, I fell to talking with two elegantly coiffed ladies of the kind who spend their afternoons in exhibitions. “Marvelous, don’t you think?” one said to me, to which I replied: “Monstrous.” Both opened their eyes wide, as if I had denied Allah’s existence in Mecca. If most architects revered Le Corbusier, who were we laymen, the mere human backdrop to his buildings, who know nothing of the problems of building construction, to criticize him? Warming to my theme, I spoke of the horrors of Le Corbusier’s favorite material, reinforced concrete, which does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays. A single one of his buildings, or one inspired by him, could ruin the harmony of an entire townscape, I insisted. A Corbusian building is incompatible with anything except itself.’

I noticed a mini-brutalist revival there for a minute.

[Readers of this blog will know that the idea there exists comprehensive knowledge of ‘reason’, or the idea that political science will arrive at solutions to all previous political problems, or the idea that modern doctrines can provide ‘systemic’ blueprints for either buildings or political systems are all ideas viewed very skeptically here.]

You’ve got to be careful where you go looking for what’s good, true and beautiful.

As for Boston City Hall, it was built in ’69 and aims to be open, accessible, and [to] connect with Boston’s past:

Confusing inside!

As posted, a podcast on raw concrete in NYC here.

Brutalist architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, having descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, meaning raw concrete in French.’

Some buildings mentioned: 375 Pearl Street is being worked on. The ‘Krull‘ Long Lines building is not for use.

Well, at least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:

Tuesday Quotation-Sir Thomas More

‘The fact is, even the sternest ascetic tends to be slightly inconsistent in his condemnation of pleasure. He may sentence you to a life of hard labour, inadequate sleep, and general discomfort, but he’ll also tell you to do your best to ease the pains and privations of others. He’ll regard all such attempts to improve the human situation as laudable acts of humanity – for obviously nothing could be more humane, or more natural for a human being, than to relieve other people’s sufferings, put an end to their miseries, and restore their joie de vivre, that is, their capacity for pleasure. So, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to do the same thing for oneself?’

More, Thomas. Utopia. Penguin (trans. Paul Turner), 1965. Print.

Hmmm…

“His problem (Plato’s) with the arts was that they operated by images rather than by ideas, and thus that they might cloud the truth rather than clarifying it.”

Yes, and religious traditions, for example, also have interpretations of how one ought to reproduce the image.

“Whatever one thinks of Plato’s solution to this problem, I suggest that this is one of the problems that elicited his proposals for severe censorship of the arts he so obviously loved and had been trained in.”

Postmodern Conservatism, Celebrity As Currency, Protest Art, Politics And Some Bad Prose

Dear Reader, lately I’ve been lurking in the shadows, strolling from streetlight to streetlight, leaning and loitering. I feel like the character you confront while skirting the edge of the park, dimly established, on your way home.

Well, no, not really.  Life is often boring, full of work and loved ones, and what’s good.

True tales from my twenties, while on brief vacation:  I remember lying on a hotel bed in Vienna, restless with the euphoria of travel, the sounds of a foreign city alive in my ears.  I remember arising, standing at the window and staring at the moon and the mansard rooves across the street.

I had seen the same rooftops in the changing light of late afternoon and dusk; the clotheslines swaying and the water stains on the walls, my eyes darting from small detail to facade to vast, unfamiliar horizon.

Life is so strange!

Now, in the middle of the night, I was with unlit cigarette (one or two a day for a year as I was very, very, cool).  I remember striking the lighter and my eyes catching a flash of light from across the street.  From the mansard rooves.

I flashed the lighter again.   One flash.

One flash in return came from the mansard rooves.  Fourth floor.  Dormer window.

I gave two flashes.

Two flashes came from the window.

I held my flame for about five seconds, about chest-level. I heard the sounds of a few cars down below.

I finally saw a light and the face of girl with dark hair, much younger, bigger nose, nice eyes, olive skin.

Was she alone?  Was she a Muslim immigrant? Why is she awake? Is she too young?  Am I a creep?  Should I try morse code?

If I have drawn your interest, I will say I remember that after a few more flashes and some rather innocent, thrilling moments of communication across the darkness under a strange moon in a strange city, I eventually found my way back to bed and to sleep.

I hope she’s well, and now too has a happy life.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’ (not so sure about that…), here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project.  I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

On that note, Jesus Christ already

Yes, there’s nudity, and it’s not nearly so unappealing as a lot of art-activist-nudity out there.

The shock for shock’s sake, childishness, and resemblance to political protest arguably demean without much reward.  I doubt this ‘artist’ has reached the sensibilities of any pilgrims nor nuns (the foolish and childish, the mature and wise).  In fact, this isn’t really art, nor even political protest nor does it reasonably address the various matters of deep disagreement for which people can end up killing each other.

Go learn how to sketch, draw and paint.  Appeal to truth, pleasure, or beauty.

Or get paid for being naked and become an artist’s model.

‘In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artist has questioned Christianity’s exploitation of female figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who are often portrayed on opposite sides of the stereotypical spectrum of female chasteness: virgin or whore.’

Admittedly, I don’t think the Virgin Mary above displays as shamelessly little talent as did ‘Mattress Girl,’ who after the hysteria and histrionics of lugging a mattress around NYU [correction: Columbia] campus, eventually did ‘classy’ pornography a disservice.

Thanks for the memories, Mattress Girl:

I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’

Why should I, you, he, she it or they care?:  ‘Mattress Girl’ got a ticket punched to the State of The Union by Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the state of New York.  It seems worth asking what the people making our laws believe and what they are saying they believe.

What do they do?  How do they behave?

Liberation is next!

Previously on this site,

Interesting piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing. Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity? Reverence? Good old Longfellow? Sonnets? Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas: An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own. Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Repost-A Few Thoughts On Thomas Cole’s ‘The Voyage Of Life’

A good decade ago, while visiting D.C., I saw Thomas Cole’s ‘The Voyage Of Life:

It’s a four-part series: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, Old Age.

One person’s life, and all of our lives, can be broken-down into four allegorical stages, pregnant with visual and universal symbols.

From Cole’s bio:

‘Although Cole had ample commissions in the late 1820s to paint pictures of American scenery, his ambition was to create a “higher style of landscape” that could express moral or religious meanings.’

From this more interactive page:

‘In the late 1830s, Cole was intent on advancing the genre of landscape painting in a way that conveyed universal truths about human existence, religious faith, and the natural world. First conceived in 1836, the four pictures comprising The Voyage of Life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age fulfilled that aspiration.’

These scenes in the Romantic style can have an emotional pull for me, as generally does the work of the Hudson River School. Such allegory certainly tends to function as a vehicle into memory (Cole’s work has really stuck with me…in a sort of haunting way, mixed with some thought of how I’m supposed to live and what might be coming next).

Also, the wild, untamed nature we Americans have often faced is perhaps requiring of a spirited and grand attempt at putting our experiences within Nature into some context: To soar as high as our hopes often do.

Or at least, to find in paintings: Familiarity. I like to see the roll of a hill like I’ve seen, or an opening of clouds, sky and light like I’ve seen.

Perhaps Wild Nature can be ordered in a Romantic, neo-classical or more modern way. Perhaps Nature can be made, with the tools at our disposal, to conform to some of our deeper ideas about Nature, mirroring our hopes in some recognizable fashion; giving some basic comfort and meaning.

Maybe, after all, we can find a home here.

On the other hand, allegory with overt moral/religious meaning can also come across as heavy-handed, sentimental, and moralistic. Too lush and pretentious; perhaps a bit anachronistic.

Do I really have to hunt for all the symbols and put the puzzle together?

‘So, you’re going to reveal universal truths, eh?’

This can seem distant from the experiences of the modern viewer, often finding himself a little further down the modern/postmodern ‘river’, where such attempts at universality might seem a wash.

Much more common these days are the very personal shards and glimpses of the inner life of an artist, attached to high ambition and great talent surely in some cases; as well to form and tradition, but generally making less bold claims to knowledge than ‘The Voyage Of Life‘.

In painting, I’m reminded of the abstract expressionist movement seeking meaning in reducing experience to the abstract in order to reveal something essential within Nature, or essential about our relationship to Nature: A transcendent place where shape, form and color can be isolated from anything immediately recognizable in the world.

Or maybe, I’m being too generous?

‘The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus, and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic.[5] In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist.’

The exploration of the Self is often pursued, as well as that of Nature, but the general hope that it might all make sense (life, death, Nature, purpose etc) in many more modern movements is often left abandoned.

Or so often, as we’ve seen in the past few generations: The pursuit of The Self can easily become subsumed to the pursuit of fame, celebrity, and money.

***

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas.

Mark Rothko undertook the idea that within the modern context, one could create temples of universal meaning through aesthetics, art, and beauty:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Repost: From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Some Sunday Songs-Metal, Myth, American Romanticism And The Civil War

Within A Bank Of Modern Fog-Another Link To Robert Hughes On Jeff Koons