Category Archives: Art

A dance interlude

I worked for our state opera company for several years, and while I have zero training or education in opera, one of the pieces of advice I got from our marketing director was to just trust your ear.

Is there an equivalent for dance? I think this is beautiful – it’s especially lovely how the wind makes a third partner – but doesn’t it strike a note of discord when the dancer’s feet are flexed when she’s in a backbend?

Maybe it’s just me.

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New year, new stats

ideal_narnia

Apropos of nothing. (By Jane Mount. Click for link.)

Something amazing has happened. Four nights ago, we graduated the baby from our room to his own. Like all baby-related milestones, I greeted this with mixed emotions. I miss having him a foot and a half from my bed. I miss waking up to the sound of him cooing to himself and sucking his fingers. But I’m not going to lie – I am so freaking relieved to have my bedroom back.

I am writing – writing! – and reading – reading! – again, openly, with no more surreptitious crouching behind a half-opened laptop or by the squint-inducing booklight I bought several months ago. I kind of miss our white noise, but our bedroom is pitch-black again and I can waltz in and out without fear of disturbing the little guy. It’s really hard to underestimate the value of these small pleasures, all of which represent a slow recapturing of ground lost in the battle for the new normal.

Anyhoo. It’s a new year, and in celebration of that, WordPress kindly sent me a year-in-review thingy about this blog. Bubble porn searches continue to drive the most overall traffic, resulting in huge numbers of disappointed young Mormon lads. Sorry boys. It’s so funny how something I wrote about a Cynthia Rowley collection two years ago continues to linger, for all the wrong reasons.

Miscellany.

Love this origami by Kumi Yamashita…click for more. Via SwissMiss.

I’m in one of those places where I can’t seem to create a cogent string of thoughts around a single topic, which leads me to then babble in brief on a variety of topics. To wit:

Beasts of the Southern Wild. We saw this Sunday, with the full knowledge that it could be the last movie we will ever watch in the theater without having to sort out childcare plans. I thought, based on what I’d seen, that this film might actually fulfill the promise established by the Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are trailer (that movie being a huge letdown for me personally). And you know, it kind of did. But I’d tried so hard to avoid reading reviews that it came as a complete shock to me that the film is incredibly sad. I spent its latter half quelling my own sobs, and the credits wiping my eyes with the clean edges of an otherwise buttery napkin. WTF. I think sometimes loose narratives leave more room for emotion to seep in and take over.

The Mists of Avalon. I was so thrilled last week to see this written up as classic trash on The Awl. I read The Mists of Avalon no fewer than three times when I was a teenager, and I distinctly recall my copy more or less disintegrating, which is why it is no longer on my bookshelves. Retrospectively (and especially after reading the comments), I tie this book’s influence to my hippie phase, which now only manifests in rare instances (views on childbirth, for instance). This is probably also why it was such a big damn deal to me to make a pilgrimage to assorted Arthurian spots on a daytrip from London, including Glastonbury Tor and the Chalice Well Gardens (I drank the water). The Mists of Avalon. Oh my god, what glorious garbage. This is right up there with Clan of the Cave Bears. Marion Zimmer Bradley + Jean Auel = sex ed for a generation of young bookish ladies.

The Gaslight Anthem. I can’t seem to get past the first three songs on the new album (funny to link to its Amazon page…I can’t recall the last time I bought an actual CD. We are still on eMusic, though we bitch about it all the time). That ’59 Sound is so good. I never got into American Slang. And I had such high hopes for Handwritten…perhaps I will get there yet.

Back from hiatus

By Dianna Molzan; follow link for source.

I was going to write something here about moving and home improvement projects, but that is some grim, boring shit, the likes of which I hope will soon recede in my memory to a faint acrid haze (at least the moving part). But I have nothing of note to share: I learned the same lesson I always learn (and forget), that blind optimism doesn’t actually make hard work go any faster or easier.

Instead, I’m finally getting around to quoting Jerry Saltz on writing, from the introduction to Seeing Out Loud, Village Voice Art Columns Fall 1998-Winter 2003.

For me, writing always seems to take everything I have; sometimes it’s hell. Generally, I don’t know what I’m going to write until I write it. However, in the same way that art tells you things you didn’t know you need to know until you know them, writing is a way of finding out what you think. Of course, often when you start figuring out what these thoughts are, they’re not always the ones you hoped you’d have. You might dislike something you thought you’d like. Or vice versa. I often find myself writing about art that embarrasses me, is unknown or unresolved. About reviews like these, a colleague warned, “Critics make their names by writing unequivocally on well-known artists.” Maybe, but just doing that reduces you to what artist-critic Douglas Blau calls “a validator of the inevitable.” Reactions are complex, and critics should try to plumb this complexity and be willing to fail in public, sometimes flamboyantly, just as artists are. Reviews that are all positive or negative, only neutral or descriptive or so obscure or academic you can’t figure out what they’re saying, sell everyone short.

There’s a slew of interesting ideas contained in this paragraph. The first to grab me is one I’ve observed again and again when I try to compose a response to a fellow writer about the story. I may have a gut reaction of some kind, but until I sit down and start writing about it, I don’t really know what exactly I think about something. For me, writing = thinking. I have had kneejerk negative reactions to stories that, once I begin to write about, I come to understand after a fashion, and lose my distaste in the process.

Another idea: it’s hard to write unequivocally. I discovered this early on in my MFA program, when I foundthat the leaders of my craft classes basically expected me to take an interpretive position on a story and articulate it with authority. For a while, I was led to believe that this was a somehow morally superior position from which to approach a given work and I tried to become more definitive in my opinions. It’s not that I’m indecisive, but I am often awash in ambiguity. I no longer think that’s a bad thing.

Finally, that last sentence…last year, I was in a class where we read a bunch of nominees for the Essay Prize. Among them was something from I think Artforum, a review of a show by Dianna Molzan. The (then-anonymous) nominator was completely enamored of the form, a dialogue between two people, one seasoned, and one young. The nominator believed this essay represented a fresh and delightful, “insouciant” way to write about art. Reader, it was intolerable. The seasoned interlocutor spoke in what I think was supposed to be humorously over-the-top arty jargon. The younger was bored/indifferent. This was not an essay about the show it purported to review. It was a stuffy in-joke, maybe funny only to its author and its nominator. Which is fine – universality is a shitty metric for quality.

But perhaps everyone concerned needs to read Politics and the English Language.

Holy crap

The mind boggles. The part in the video where she begins to trim out the paper makes me twitch. But these Momantai Design Masterpieces  are pretty cool nonetheless. I especially like the monochromatic examples on the site.

Via Swiss Miss.

Tales of Hofman

Orebro, Sweden

A while back, I was talking up Carol Bly, whose book on writing short fiction I finished – oh, I don’t know – last week? the week before? Bly takes a reassuring and pragmatic approach to digging within one’s self to write things that speak to the wider world (reassuring to those of us dogged by the fear/concern that one’s stories are “small”). But she also returned again and again to a (faux modestly?) crappy story that she developed for the purpose of illustrating various techniques, and so strong was my distaste for this example story that I found myself distracted from her broader points.

I began to doubt the affinity I felt for the approach she described in the non-fiction book. And then. Then! She delivered backhanded praise to Maugham (who she positions as clever for clever’s sake) and Austen (whose pleasure in writing fools gave her pause—she viewed it as an unkind impulse). I pause here to declare my love for both these writers. (In high school, my best friend and I read Of Human Bondage and would quote lines at each other: “I don’t know whether it’s perfectly delicious, or whether I’m just going to vomit.”)

Perhaps I do not have such an affinity for Bly after all, because I would sooner write occasionally unkind and once-in-a-while clever things versus Very Important Stories About Personal Ethics and Chemical Warfare, With a Side of Alcoholism, Domestic Assault, and a Lost Dog. It’s not that I want my stories to be small, but if they need to be leaden and dreary with the psychic weight of our agonized existence…eh. I’ll stick to le fluff.

I realize this is a belabored transition, but I actually did produce the above thoughts after reading some material on Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who creates large-scale public art spaces. I saw his rabbit and monkey on Honestly…WTF. He is also behind the ginormous rubber duck (or Canard de bain…hee) that’s been around the world. Hofman declares that his goals as an artist are to amaze and make life a little more fun, but this is an oversimplification. There is considerable craft behind his work, which is often produced in collaboration with the communities in which he constructs them. Several works – such as this thatched musk rat or this blue-painted stretch of street in Rotterdam comment on wider issues. And his work is theatrical. He is quoted here: “It’s important that the people who have seen the work were lucky and there were those who didn’t. People will feel a connection more because they were part of that work as long as it lasted.” The ephemeral quality of the work creates a shared experience (like memorable concerts) that can only really live in memory. Neither shaky footage of a concert nor a photograph of a public art piece can do justice to the experience of living it.

Meanwhile, what does this have to do with writing or with Carol Bly or important art? That is the rub, isn’t it? Because I don’t really know. Nominally, that art does not need to be humorless and serious to succeed in engaging the viewer. And that if engaging the viewer/reader is the goal of a small artist, well—so be it. We can’t all be Tolstoy, and some of us don’t even want to be, however great he was.

Guerilla art

This kind of thing really appeals to me: the scale, the careful planning and execution of the team, the inadvertent participation of the drivers, the chanciness of the aesthetic outcome (via Honestly WTF).

I am not a big watcher of televised parades and spectacles, but for some reason I did watch parts of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, which included a project in sympathy with this one, I believe during the parade of nations. The athletes walked through some kind of colored powder then onto a white surface, creating an ombre effect. My REALLY cursory image search revealed nothing of this (did I imagine it?) and my search for footage on YouTube also came up dry. It seems that NBC yanked everything related to the broadcast. Bastards!