Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Observations on Art 10.29

Last week Banksy, the British graffiti artist, submitted an op-ed to The New York Times that the Times board rejected. This is the text of that op-ed, a text the Times has said Banksy changed. I'm not going to say I agree with what he wrote, mostly I don't, but I do think that if the Times can print an op-ed supposedly written by Vladimir Putin they can print this.

"As a visitor staying in New York for the past few weeks one thing has become very clear to me, and I say this as a friend, you've got to do something about the new World Trade Center. The building is a disaster. Well no, disasters are interesting. One World Trade Center is a non-event. Its vanilla. Its like something they would build in Canada.

The attacks of September 11th were an attack on all of us and we will live out our lives in their shadow. But it's also how we react to adversity that defines us. And the response? 104 floors of compromise?

Remarkable for such a tall structure One World Trade Center lacks any self-confidence. How does it stand up without a spine? It looks like it never wanted to built in the first place. It reminds you of a really tall kid at a party, awkwardly shifting his shoulders trying not to stand out from the crowd. It's the first time I've ever seen a shy skyscraper.

It would be easy to view One World Trade Center as a betrayal of everyone who lost their lives on September 11th, because it so clearly proclaims the terrorists won. Those 10 men have condemned us to live in a world more mediocre than the one they attacked, rather than be the catalyst for a dazzling new one.

Nobody comes to New York to bathe in your well-mannered common sense. We're here for the spirit and audacity. Of which One World Trade Center has none. Instead you have to look to the rooftops, to the chorus of precariously roller painted names and slogans crawling over the skyline like poison ivy. This is the city's true heritage, a city that made it's name giving space to the mercurial and the brave.

 One World Trade declares the glory days of New York are gone. You really need to put up a better building in front of it right away. Or better still, let the kids with the roller poles finish it off. Because you currently have under construction a one thousand foot tall sign that reads, New York - we lost our nerve."

Given the opportunity I would ask Banksy a question.  If the glory days of New York are gone why did you spend a month here?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Observations on Art 10.24

The quest to define what is or what isn't art is as old as time. For something different here is an awesome definition of what an artist is.

"For me, artists are driven to do what they do no matter what. It’s a very powerful ambition and they pursue it in whatever way works best for them. Artists have a practice and pursuing and developing it is always the motivating factor, not whether or not they will sell something or even find a venue in which it can be seen. In my experience, artists are among the most self-motivated, organized, the most disciplined and the hardest working people I know. Sure, some artists are lucky enough that they can make a living doing it while other artists work day jobs or supplement their practice by teaching or other means. But I don’t think the distinction is important. It’s the seriousness of purpose that I admire the most."

Carter Foster, Curator of Drawing at Whitney Museum of American Art, from Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists by Sharon Loudon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.17

By now you all know what happened yesterday, last minute deal, signed by the President, the government is reopening today. At the moment I have nothing to add to that. This is about finding something to laugh at even on the brink of disaster. Tuesday night as the nation teetered on that brink Anderson Cooper was live from Washington with AC 360 Later and one of his commentators was Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. That is all the background you are going to need. What follows is from the official AC 360 transcript which you can read here or you can watch a short clip here.

Cooper: Alex, you don't want to admit this, but you actually agree with Paul that this is not the way to go about it, to risk the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Castellanos: I think it's a terrible idea. I think the Republicans are going to pay a big price in the short-term. A friend explained to me today finally what Ted Cruz is doing. And I finally understand. He's having bunny sex.

Cooper: Wow. This is the late-night edition of 360.

Castellanos: In nature, there are boom-and-bust cycles. The snowshoe hare every 10 years multiplies sixfold.

Cooper: Are you high? What are you talking about?

Castellanos: I am high. Let me explain. Let me explain. Totally high. I wish I was. The bunny, the snowshoe hare, I thought it's a marvelous explanation every six years, every 10 years multiplies sixfold. Bunnies like sex apparently.

Cooper: You're digging a ditch, Alex.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.16

Two weeks into the government shutdown, hours away from the debt ceiling, and there is possibly a deal in the U.S. Senate that would open the government and fund it until January 15, 2014 as well as raise the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. We shall see what happens because a lot depends on whether Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants to read more Dr. Seuss books from the Senate floor and how bad John Boehner wants to keep his House Speakership. Honestly I think it will get done because in the end the powers that matter know it has to be. I mean seriously, this isn't Argentina. I apologize if you are Argentina.

I've talked and tweeted about this debacle until people are tired of listening to me. I haven't written much about it because my thoughts change faster than I can write them down but there is one thing I wanted to say. It's in the same line of thought as the Bible quote I posted yesterday.

Let me start by saying this is totally a Republican shutdown and I'm not even willing to debate that fact. If you change House rules to make it harder to end the shutdown the day before it begins you own it, saying there is plenty of blame to go around politically just isn't true and helps no one. Try and imagine the Democrats shutting down the government to pass gun control. You can't imagine it because they wouldn't do it.

But there is plenty of blame to go around in a larger sense and that blame is all ours. It's ours for allowing those around us to say things like get rid of all the bums, I don't vote because they're all the same, or they're just crazy but they won't really do it. The Tea Party Republicans said they would do it, they were elected to do it, and they did it. Why is everybody so shocked and surprised this happened? We shake our heads and laugh at Sarah Palin and her like but there are people out there who hang on her every word as if it were handed down from some temple mount in Alaska. These people claim to be 'patriots' but they care about themselves, their bank accounts, and their ideology, nothing more. I'm not even going to bring up the total crazies who think this is the beginning of the end of days and are ecstatic.

It's not funny, it's not a game, and it's not a joke. It's our country and they are trying to destroy it for their own pathetic reasons.

One thing I can't get out of my head is the sight of the House Republican Caucus singing "Amazing Grace" yesterday. When I first saw it all I could think of is the band playing as the Titanic sank.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.14

I've been writing this blog for a few years now so I can't be totally sure but I would be willing to bet I have never quoted the Bible in it. After listening to Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and all the other crazies for the past couple weeks, and seeing a Confederate flag being waved outside the White House yesterday, a biblical quote comes to mind. On the fourteenth day of the government shutdown, and with three days to go until we hit the debt ceiling, my first Bible quote is in honor of the Republican Party. It shouldn't be hard to guess, Hosea 8-7.

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Observations on Art 10.6

Part 1: When it is it is ....

Over a month ago the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced Sunset at Montmajour was indeed an original painting by Vincent van Gogh. I've been wanting to write a post about it because the history of the painting is an awesome story and most of what I have read has left out parts of it. More often than not articles have been more like reviews of Sunset at Montmajour and nothing more. The powers that be in the art world have decided it isn't one of van Gogh's best works as if it were some sketch tossed into the trash can. It's a van Gogh, that's my review. Now the story behind it.

When Sunset at Montmajour was painted in 1888 Vincent van Gogh was 35 years old and had by then sold just one painting. He wrote a letter to his brother Theo van Gogh describing the painting which he said he had painted the previous day, "at sunset, I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill and wheat fields in the valley." (Read the letter here.) Vincent later sent the painting to Theo for storage. Two years later, in 1890, Vincent van Gogh arguably committed suicide in a field near Auvers-sur-Oise, now in the suburbs of Paris.

After Vincent's death Theo van Gogh inventoried his collection of paintings and gave Sunset at Montmajour the number 180. Just two years after Vincents death Theo himself died and his collection was broken up and sold as the paintings had rapidly begun to increase in value.

In 1901 painting number 180, than known by its original name Sun Setting at Arles, was sold to the French art dealer Maurice Fabre during one of the first retrospectives of van Gogh's paintings. In 1908 Fabre sold the painting to a novice collector and Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad. Mustad proudly showed his new treasure to France's ambassador to Sweden who told Mustad that he doubted its authenticity. Probably embarrassed at his mistake Mustad never showed the painting again and Sun Setting at Arles disappeared into Mustad's attic and from history.

The painting was stored in the attic until Mustad's death in 1970 when the family called in collector Daniel Wildenstein who dismissed it as a fake or possibly a painting by Adolphe Monticelli who preceded van Gogh's period and who van Gogh admired. The family sold the painting to an unknown collector who later sold it to it's current, also unnamed, owner. In 1991 the Van Gogh Museum itself refused to authenticate, or even look at, the painting.

There are many reasons for the doubted authenticity over there years not the least of which is that the painting wasn't signed but van Gogh didn't sign many of his paintings. It is from a late traditional period of his painting after which he began using thicker brush strokes. Also there is an almost total lack of paper trail as beginning with Fabre none of the transactions were properly recorded.

What changed between 1991 and 2011 when the Van Gogh Museum began the authentication of Sunset at Montmajour and what went into authenticating it? The museum finished editing and had published Vincent's letters to Theo and had the detailed description I mentioned above. During the authenticating process X-ray examination of the canvas showed it identical to canvas van Gogh used for other paintings from the period including The Rocks which is in Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. Finally modern analysis of the pigment, the artistic equivalent of genetic sequencing, showed the painting's were the same as those used by van Gogh at Arles.

Is Sunset at Montmajour the 'last' van Gogh? One never knows because the painter was known to destroy works he didn't like and his letters are filled with descriptions of paintings that have never been see.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.5

This photo was posted on twitter by House Majority Leader Eric Ivan Cantor on the day the government shutdown started. Apparently it's supposed to show how the Republicans were ready to negotiate and that the Democrats of the Senate were the ones responsible for the shutdown. Rather get into that rather obvious falsehood I thought I would post the photo for strictly artistic reasons. I think it may be the best example of white and white photography I have ever seen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.4

"We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is." Yesterday I finished my post yesterday with that quote from Marlin Stutzman who is a Republican congressman from Indiana. I bring it up again because during a speech he made in Rockville, Maryland yesterday afternoon President Obama answered Stutzman, "You have already gotten the opportunity to serve the American people. There is no higher honor than that." Later in his speech the President added, "If you're being disrespected, it's because of that attitude you got that you deserve to get something for doing your job." You can read the full speech here, that is you can read it if the White House site is up.

I heard somewhere that as the shutdown gets longer politicians will begin to say increasingly stupid things. The tension level increases, yesterday's events at the Capital only added to that, and they start to hear more and more from angry constituents. Publicly admitting you don't know what you are after is a good example. Another is Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a Republican from Texas, berating a Park Service Ranger at the WWII Memorial for not allowing the public to enter a park his shutdown had closed. To it's credit Fox News noted that "in his breast pocket, he (Neugebauer) carried a small American flag."

But, as should probably be expected, the stupid comments aren't limited to politicians and can show how a person truly feels. The following paragraph comes from Fox Business host Stuart Varney who was asked if he thought government employees should get back pay when the shutdown ends. If this sample doesn't make you ill enough you can listen to his full tirade here.

"No, I don't think they should get their back pay, frankly, I really don't. I'm sick and tired of a massive, bloated federal bureaucracy living on our backs, and taking money out of us, a lot more money than most of us earn in the private sector, then getting a furlough, and then getting their money back at the end of it. Sorry, I'm not for that. I want to punish these people. Sorry to say that, but that's what I want to do."

According to the website Celebrity Net Worth Stuart Varney is worth in excess of $10 million. Behold the New Age of the Robber Barons.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.3

After a few days of the U.S. government being shut down I'm beginning to learn a few things. I may have known them all along but I'm getting a quick refresher course. I'll finish with one of the many quotes coming from the GOP that you just can't make up.

A large percentage of Americans don't like government, don't like paying taxes, and will never admit government is doing anything at all for them. It's part of the same national psyche that is so in love with guns. Keeping that in mind I think maybe we need to shut the government down every twenty years or so just to show no-government nuts that they do indeed need it. After just a few days I'm already sick of hearing people struck dumb by the fact that government actually does something for them.

It's fairly obvious but Democrats always want to be liked to a fault while a majority of Republicans today don't care if you like them so long as you fear them. Democrats can be overbearing sometimes but it's like a parent who cares and thinks they know better. Republicans and the conservative talking heads always have a smile on their face like they are scolding a petulant child who needs to be shown the obviously correct way.

I've heard the GOP shutdown called extortion or scorched earth politics but I have my own words for it. In today's world it probably isn't politically correct to use the term but I can say what I want, it's terrorism. Economic terrorism to be precise. If the shutdown runs into the debt ceiling on October 17th and the United states of America defaults on its debts it will do more economic damage to the world economy than a terrorist could even dream of doing. It's that simple but you wont hear anybody call it that.

Speaking of petulant, this quote explains what's going better than anything else. "We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is," said Marlin Stutzman, conservative congressman from Indiana and member of the Republican Suicide Caucus. On the off chance Stutzman doesn't remember what respect is here is its definition; a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect. Honestly I have nothing to add.