Tag: art

On the Why of Poetry

 

A Sierpinski sieve. Thanks to the magic of Ricochet this one is even more fractal than it looks; there’s a sixth level of the pattern hidden in the image resizing.
Last time I wrote about poetry I took a scientist’s view of the matter. This time I’m starting in math. Clearly, I understand what all this poetry stuff is about. Do y’all remember what a fractal is? It’s a pattern that repeats itself all the way down.

Imagine, if you will, that those white triangles are islands in a sea of black. You have a continent in the middle, a couple isles nearby, and more and more islands and islets the further away you get from that central continent. It’s bad water for navigating in because there’s an infinite number of rocks, pebbles, and even smaller navigation hazards poking up out of the surface of the water. Maybe it’s more of a swamp than an ocean. Okay, now zoom in. Let’s say you’re small enough that you live on one of the islands. You can deduce the pattern; you know that just over thataways there’s a bigger island. Is there another, larger one beyond it, or are we looking at the top of the pattern?

A Multi-Level Treasure Hunt

 

In 1764 Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia started a major war in Europe. It was a culture war. She collected fine art as aggressively as she fought on the battlefield. It spurred Europe’s crowned heads, especially Louis XVI of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia, to compete at obtaining and displaying art, especially fine paintings.

“The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure: Catherine the Great, a Golden Age Masterpiece, and a Legendary Shipwreck,” by Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees, records a casualty of that culture war Dutch Master paintings purchased at auction for Catherine the Great were sent from Holland to St Petersburg aboard the Dutch merchantman Vrouw Maria. Caught in a storm, the ship sank off the Finnish coast.

The book uses the shipwreck, to frame the story. Among the paintings lost was Gerrit Dou’s triptych The Nursery. Largely forgotten today, Dou was then the most admired Golden Age Dutch Master. (One of Dou’s paintings hung in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.) The Nursery was considered Dou’s finest work.

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The cold is biting, even through layers of linen, chirimen, and silk. Vender’s cries fill the air, offering up soba noodles, natto, charred eel, and chazuke, an accent to the everpresent flow of the Sumida River. Down an alley in the artisan’s district, lantern flames illuminate a broad shoji paper door, allowing the tile and […]

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See that painting to the right. A few years back it sold for a little over $110 million. Yes, that childishly blotched and scribbled head, which probably took the painter a couple of hours to create, sold for what it would take a Safeway checker about a hundred lifetimes to earn. The artist was a […]

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A Sense of Wonder

 

Whether you are Christian or not, Christmas is a good time for renewal of innocence and wonder. The common sights of people excitedly opening gifts, decorating homes and public streets in lights, retelling stories of miracles and merriment — such experiences can rekindle in us a joyful pursuit of the good and the beautiful.

Question for My Lefty Friends?

 

The Left has created the conditions for dozens of needless deaths, for the reduction of primarily black neighborhoods to a smoldering ruin, for the demoralization and departure of hundreds of police officers from the neediest neighborhoods, skyrocketing murder rates in vulnerable communities. As if all this weren’t achievements enough, #Black Lives Matter/Antifa activists have at last undertaken the work of trashing monuments to the men and moments that are deeply offensive to those whose feelings, as well as lives, matter.
 
It began with monuments to Confederate soldiers, but as Donald Trump predicted (to loud ridicule, at the time) it didn’t end there. Statues depicting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key, Phillip Schuyler, Ronald Reagan, Polish Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Kit Carson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, abolitionists Hans Christian Heg and Matthias Baldwin, Christopher Columbus, San Junipero Sera, Juan de Onate, Theodore Roosevelt, John Breckenridge Castleman, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and, for some reason, an elk have all been subjected to defacement or destruction in the name of black victims of white police violence. 
 
Across the nation, hammers, burning rags, ropes, crowbars, and red paint have been deployed against monuments commemorating Union veterans (including the monument to the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment) police officers killed in the line of duty, 9/11 firefighters, female pioneers, women’s progress, soldiers and sailors, WWI veterans and the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
 
There is a reasonable debate to be had about the wisdom or necessity of removing monuments to Confederate soldiers and, yes, there are likely good people to be found on both sides of it. But now that such debate has been foreclosed by direct, revolutionary action, the (partial) list above begs a more important question for anyone who is enthusiastically or even vaguely supporting the protesters.
 
 What is the limiting principle in the Woke iconoclasm?
 
I ask, because Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, recently embraced the conclusions of a city working group she’d tasked with evaluating whether statues and memorials in the city should be removed or contextualized if the historical figures they represent participated in “slavery, systemic racism, mistreatment of, or actions that suppressed equality for, persons of color, women and LGBTQ communities and violation of the DC Human Rights Act.”

If that is, indeed, the mainstream bar to clear, it explains why poor old Frederick Douglass and the 54th Massachusetts were targeted. For all their undoubted Blackness and astonishing courage, who knows what evil thoughts those guys might have had about transgendered bathrooms? Indeed, it is difficult to think of a public figure at any time up ’til the present who could be sure of passing muster with Muriel & Co, including Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders.
 
It is possible that many of my fellow Unitarian Universalists are okay with the beheading of statues of Jesus. Not (just) because Jesus makes us kind of uncomfortable, but because a statue is just a statue! It’s just “stuff.”  A UU believes (and should), along with the Reverend Erik Carlson of Kenosha, that his century-old UU church building, very nearly a casualty of the mostly-peaceful social justice arsonists, was as nothing compared with the police shooting of Jacob Blake. 
 
“We’d rather lose 100 buildings than one more life to police violence,” the church website virtuously proclaimed. Of course, thanks to the quick action of passersby (if not, you know, God) Rev. Carlson and his congregation did not lose their building, though the car dealership next door was burned to cinders. Scrolling through the website, I found no sympathetic mention of this loss, no prayers for the owner or employees, nor links to fundraisers with suggestions to donate.
 
Unitarian Universalists, I should admit here, are overwhelmingly drawn from the middle to upper-middle classes, which may explain the insouciance when it comes to material possessions. “Just stuff,” they say, with the smugness of those who find “stuff,” even whole buildings, easy to come by. Since UUs are also mostly left-leaning Democrats, they understand it to be the government’s job, not theirs, to look after burned-out neighbors. “We care about the building, but we care about people way more,” Rev. Carlson assured reporters. Well… some people. 
 
If you count yourself a progressive; if there’s a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard; if the mostly-peaceful, though astonishingly destructive protests seem to you an understandable or even justified response to the racism you agree is “systemic” in America; if you agree with Rev. Carlson that random car dealerships and old church buildings—even ones with “Black Lives Matter” signs out front—are perfectly legitimate targets for Woke outrage… then what do you, personally, believe is, or at least ought to be, the limiting principle on that violence?
 
After all, I dimly recall a certain shared horror in UU land at the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient, priceless Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan back in 200l. This, despite the undeniable fact that Afghan Muslims found those statues outrageously offensive. 
 
Are there objects you feel should be spared destruction even if they offend people? How confident are you that today’s activists would agree with, or at least respect, your (or any) boundaries?
 
For example: How do you feel about the “mere stuff” that fills the National Gallery or the Metropolitan Museum of Art? 
 
Folks, if any public institution is systemically racist inside and out, it’s an art museum. These are white-designed buildings filled with the work of white, old, white, un-woke white, cis-gendered white men—and what work! Heteronormative, culturally-appropriative Western colonialist capitalist hegemony enshrined in paint and canvas, marble and clay, and funded, curated, managed, and patronized and enjoyed by overwhelmingly white people. 
 
Don’t think the Woke haven’t noticed. There have already been public calls for the “restructuring” or abolition of museums in the name of racial justice. It’s just a matter of time before the same logic that leads activists to try to burn down the historic St. John’s Church in Washington, DC compels violence against these and other, similar cultural institutions.
 
Should activists whose legitimate outrage led them to destroy a statue of an elk be expected to spare the paintings of Giotto, Goya, van Gogh, Giacometti or Georgia O’Keefe? If Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were not excused, how can we be sure that Winslow Homer or Mary Cassatt won’t turn out to have “participated in slavery, systemic racism, mistreatment of or actions that suppressed equality for persons of color, women and LGBTQ communities…” or that they would not, today, be found to have somehow violated the DC Human Rights Act? 
 
As it happens, throughout most of this historic, transformative, George Floyd/Jacob Blake/assorted (armed/overdosing/woman beating/murderous/suicidal) victimized black males protest period, the “just stuff” at America’s major museums has been protected—thanks to COVID-19—behind locked doors
 
But the doors will open. And the Woke will enter in. 
 
They’ve already laid the groundwork. They’ve made the usual demands——more Black representation on boards, more rich-college-student internships for Black rich college students, more money for Black artists, more condescending fawning and puffery instead of criticism for Black art plus the removal of works claimed to have appropriated Black themes and techniques (goodbye Picasso!) and the repatriation of various artifacts looted from Egypt and Africa by white Colonialists. 
 
Recent history suggests, however, that one demand, if met, merely and inevitably cues the next. Since museums are filled with words and images, and words and images (in their presence or absence) are defined as “violence,” retaliatory violence is always on the table. 
 
Of course, there will be guards in place at the Metropolitan Museum, and alarm systems linked to the city police department. But is that a good thing, given that we’re talking about the same racist, brutal (and increasingly demoralized and depopulated) police departments that the social-democratic mayor has already signaled his willingness to abolish?
 
Well, and why, when we are in the midst of the transformative work of “re-imagining public safety” should brutal, racist police be paid to forcibly defend the treasures of a cis-gendered, heteronormative, patriarchal white Western history and culture against angry black-and-brown people and their more numerous white “allies?”
 
F— Michaelangelo! F— Degas! F— the British Wing and f— the Asian Wing too (Asians are white-adjacent after all). Behead those medieval Mary-and-Jesus figures, their heads and toes rubbed shiny by a million tender human touches, slash the Byzantine altarpieces, smash the Greek and Roman statues, make a pyre of DaVinci drawings and Durer prints and burn upon it an effigy of Donald Trump in the rotunda. We would rather lose a hundred Monets than one more life to police violence!
 
Right?
 
If not…why not? 

Member Post

 

Do you have children or grandchildren in grades 3-12? First Lady Melania Trump is inviting them to submit their original artwork in celebration of 100 years of American women having the right to vote, and in remembrance of the long decades of hard work leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The deadline […]

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COVID-19 Symposium: An (Im)movable Feast

 

I won’t pretend that I have a singularly unique quarantine story, or even one anywhere near the hardest. Life could be much, much worse and I am supremely grateful, above all else, that I got a choice in how this happened. When my university decided to move online, a few days after Yale and Columbia began demanding that their exchange students return and we had the first two confirmed coronavirus cases on our campus, my parents began making plans for me to come home before it became impossible. I said no. There were still exams I had to sit in May, I said, and there was no way I was going to be able to study with everyone home, or take my last three weeks of classes over Zoom with our unstable internet connection. One of my classes had yet to go online, and I didn’t want to leave and miss a tutorial. Flight prices were going to skyrocket. And these were all true enough, especially the excuse about exams, but I stayed mostly to keep my family safe. 

This was the first winter and spring in all I could remember that my dad hadn’t caught pneumonia, hadn’t ended up with an inhaler or at the ER, struggling to breathe. So I, who had almost definitely been exposed to the virus on campus, and if not there in our university’s city at large, was going to make a long train trip and go through two airports, one that had been host to thousands of Americans on the continent from heavily infected countries escaping while they still had time, to come home? To potentially kill or do irreparable harm someone I loved? Hell. No. 

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The freedom of artistic expression is one of the most taken-for-granted freedoms we have. It allows society to benchmark its pain or its pleasure throughout time. Therefore, one of the hallmarks of a great society is its art. But art is a dangerous, passionate expression. Throughout history art has defied regimes, begun revolutions, and changed […]

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Delayed Innovation

 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to an inventor is for him to be ignored.

Take for example German archery enthusiast Jörg Sprave. He pitched his bow designs to manufacturers for years. None purchased his plans. But Sprave did not idly wait for broader success. He continued to iterate until building something he wished he had thought of years ago. 

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https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-49396718 “Nightmare hand statue looms over New Zealand City” was the topic here, and knowing how the world press treats the POTUS, I fully expected it to be a political reference (oh, the horror). But the article says that interpretation is only in the eyes of some. Preview Open

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Hot Arts

 

My father provides ideas for stories from time to time, or the core of the tale itself, upon occasion. Beyond the similarity of our speaking voices, our storytelling and argumentation resonate harmoniously, making for easy writing. The nub of this tale starts with an email from the senior Colonel, in which he offered two images of heat: a blacksmith and an angel standing on the sun. This prompted reflections on people working with heat to create things.

My father grew up in the countryside, outside of Philadelphia. Sure enough, in the 1940s there was still a blacksmith in the community. The blacksmith has lived on in my father’s childhood memories, like the inquisitive postmistress, and his favorite childhood toy. Blacksmiths create things both practical and aesthetically pleasing through the application of so much heat that iron or steel becomes malleable. For some great pictures and description of the process, you should read Scott Wilmot’s “Homesteading: 3 Days of Blacksmithing.” Blacksmiths work in close proximity to extreme heat and can only create with metal heated to such a temperature as could inflict devastating injuries in case of accidental contact.

Other artisans work in softer metals, melting their work materials in a sort of pot, skimming off impurities and then pouring off some of the molten metal into a mold, from which the cooled solid forms may be further manipulated into a final design, for ornament or practical use. I have an early memory of my father practicing one such art.

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  This ad leading to the topic was spotted on a facebook trading site. The craft? artform? is easy to ask about on your favorite internet self-education source so I won’t link to anything but the term to use is “Reborn Babies.” Odd that it’s well-established but I never ran across it and I’m not […]

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If a crucifix doesn’t interest you, then imagine that this cross is a memorial of some other person, place, or idea which is precious to you and relevant to many. It could be a symbol of American history and freedom. It could be a testament to your ancestors. And so on. If you found such […]

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Ask an academic preservationist why Penn Station‘s demolition was a tragedy, and most will have no answer. A few may quibble with the premise. The cleverer among them might say, “Because New Yorkers didn’t want it to be destroyed.” But pose the natural question, “Why didn’t New Yorkers want it to be destroyed?” and the […]

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The number of documentaries one can watch on YouTube for free is staggering, including some of the classic art documentaries the BBC released between 1969 and 1980. The impetus for finding them online was the news that a new Civilisations (yes, the English spelling) series was being released, and as this YouTube comment relates, it’s […]

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Sister Wendy’s Odyssey Continues

 

Sister Wendy Beckett, the reclusive, charming, surprisingly down-to-earth Carmelite nun, has died at the age of 88. She became an unlikely television star in the 1990s as a result of her natural screen presence, her love of art, her ability to convey the humanity in everything she saw to others, and yes, her marvelous teeth. (I’m sure she must have had pet rabbits, I’m never wrong about that.). Obituaries abound, but I think this is a particularly nice one.

“God never sends suffering. Never. It is never ‘God’s will’ that we should suffer. God would like us not to suffer. But since the world brings suffering, and since God refuses to use His almighty power and treat us as foolish children, He aligns Himself with us, goes into Auschwitz with us, is devastated by 9/11 with us, and draws us with Him through it all into fulfillment. This is a high price to pay for our human freedom, but it is worth it. To be mere automatons for whom God arranges the world to cause us no suffering would mean we never have a self. We could not make choices.” — Sister Wendy Beckett

Thanks for taking me along on parts of your journey, Sister Wendy. Rest in Peace.

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Jeff Koons Plays for Dough The war against the First Amendment has many fronts. It’s become clear our right to freely express ourselves is being smothered by those who control the means of our communications. This stifling may have been subtle in the past, but no longer. The New Aristocracy of the Well-Connected, the class […]

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