Archive for the ‘Art’ category

A Hard Rain

December 12, 2016

I’m reading M Train right now — my way to push back on the news by diving into someone else’s struggle to live in the act of making work that cuts.  Just now, with the luck of the ‘net, my YouTube bot popped this into my recommend list:

I am much moved by Smith’s break on stage and more so by her return.

The song is obviously on point, the setting is surreal, and Smith herself is a walking, talking, ain’t-bragging-if-you-can-do-it lesson on turning a life into its own artform — as that same life spins its art into the world through all the moil and misery (and those flashes of joy!) that go into walking this earth.

It’s not all Trump and evil out there. I strain to remember that every day, and some days are harder than others. (Yesterday!  Worse than the chicken at Tresky’s.)

But it’s true, and I thank Patti Smith for the reminder.

Top of the evening to all here — with a thick layer of improbable acts with oxidized farm implements to our enemies!

Because Every Now And Then It’s Good To Stop And Look At Something Amazing

December 5, 2016

Yo Yo Ma and Lil Buck would be draw enough, I’d say.  But manohmanohman — check out what Lil Buck does as he draws his performance to a close:

My every joint and ligament screams in mute sympathy.  Human bodies shouldn’t be able to do that.  An extraordinarily gifted human has done I have no idea how much constant, brutal, consuming work to make it look…well, not effortless, but graceful.  Beautiful.

Enjoy, for just a moment, before resuming our regular coverage of the Trumpocalypse.

If You Need A Break (I Do)

June 10, 2016

Here’s some utterly non-political awesomeness with which to launch the weekend:

My regret:  the strandbeests came to Massachusetts last fall — the MIT campus even! — and I didn’t manage to see them in action.


Ceci Ne Sont Pas Des Lunettes*

May 31, 2016

Calling all Sokals!

I know this is a case of chasing easy marks, but still, I laughed.

Two teenagers visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and they came away…underwhelmed:

The teenagers, Kevin Nguyen, 16, and TJ Khayatan, 17, both of San Jose, had been left scratching their heads at the simplicity of some of the museum’s exhibits, including two stuffed animals on a blanket.

“Is this really what you call art?” Kevin said in an interview over the weekend.

TJ added, “We looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’ ”


Cue the long-standing first reaction to a Pollack:  “My five year old could do better!”

Nguyen and Khayatan, however, did the hard thing: put their ambition to the test.  Theirs was no instant success:

Inspired during their visit on May 21, they experimented with putting a jacket on the floor and then a baseball cap, but neither drew attention.

Like any driven artist, the two persisted, until, the breakthrough!

Kevin then placed his Burberry glasses on the floor beneath a placard describing the theme of the gallery. He said neither he nor TJ did anything to influence museum visitors, such as standing around and looking at the glasses.

The linked article has a picture of what came next…;-)

Not that the creators could fully appreciate their success. One does have to sacrifice for art:

Within about three minutes, people appeared to be viewing their handiwork as bona fide art, though Kevin said that without his glasses, he could not see what was happening too well.

Give SFMOMA credit, though, for a sense of humor about the matter:

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 1.19.05 PM

That would be a reference to this, I believe (as does the NY Times…)

Anyway — good times!  And nothing to do with the ferret headed weasel (a sphinx for our times!), the senator from the north country, nor the lady whose nomination must not be acknowledged.  So I guess this makes it just fun.  Happy Tuesday, all.

*Well.  Actually…they are, in exactly the sense that Magritte argued that his pipe was not.

Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, between 1638 and 1639.

Fables Of The Reconstruction: Cue The World’s Tiniest Violin Edition — Plus: Bonus For A Good Time On The Cape!

October 25, 2014

Attention conservation notice (term stolen from Cosma): What follows is mostly purely Levenson-domicile maundering.  The good stuff is at the end; great art by someone I love.  Now you know.

I’ve gone silent on our kitchen renovation farrago, for the obvious and very good reason:  it’s the eternal return of the same, and thus boring. Everyone who’s lived through (or, FSM-forbid, DIY’d) a major house project knows the one universal truth: it sucks.  It’s like parachuting without the thrill:  August 1 at 7 a.m. we were riding a perfectly functional airplane had a perfectly functional kitchen.  By 8:30 we’d jumped.

And the usual followed:  the house is filled with dust; we’ve broken so many glasses in our makeshift sink that we’ve finally given up and gone to plastic; and as the weeks go by the house looks more like a communal grad-student flop than I ever thought I’d inhabit again.

But there’s hope.  Yesterday — all in one day! — saw the transition from this:



To this:



Of course, the resulting upsurge in that sweet feeling that suggests, yes, this may someday end, is “hope” only in the sense that Robin Williams describe here. (Round about 1:48 for the reference.)   Yeah, the room finally looks more or less like a room again — but now we’re going head on into the fiddly stage, where two or more skilled craftspeople will nudge something or other into some precise configuration that takes hours to work out, for an indefinite and seemingly unending future.  Again…tiny violin time.

Never mind.  We still cook — this week I managed a lamb stew, even, browning the meat on the gas grill — in the midst of a thunder squall — before finishing everything else on 12o0 watt burner on the hot plate:


Tasted fine.

There’s HOOOOOOOOPE (18 f**king times!)

Meanwhile, of course, life continues to do its thing — and given that, can I draw your attention to something that makes me very happy, and that I think (as I should) shows real power as a work of art.

That would be the new installation show my wife, Katha Seidman, is about to open with two other artists at the Cotuit Center for the Arts — calling all Cape Cod-proximate Balloon Juicers!.

Inspired by and in conversation with Giacometti’s The Palace at 4 a.m. (to be seen at MOMA in New York), the installation opens tonight.  Details on the card:


Lots more on the installation (with photos of both the stages of creation and some of the more sculptural elements) can be found at its Facebook page.

I’ve seen it go through all the stages of gestation, from sketches and models to huge bits and pieces, some of which we trialled on our lawn.  It’s (in my no-doubt utterly unbiased opinion) a deeply conceived and executed work of art, powerful as spectacle and more so as I’ve lingered with what its elements say in themselves and with and through each other.  So, if you happen to be passing anywhere near that way in the next month, check it out.

Last, just for grins, here’s a picture of me, singing cooking in the rain:


Ah well. It’s sunny today, at least.

Start The Week With The Lord God Bird

September 8, 2014


A nice start to what might be a tolerable week* comes in the form of a message from Harvard’s rare books collection, the Houghton Library.  Its collection of 114 early J.J. Audubon drawings is now online in high resolution.  Among the treats, a depiction of two Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, the “lord god bird,” having their way with a tree.

According to the announcement, these early drawings are rare/of heightened interest because of Audubon’s practice of destroying sketches and alternate versions after selecting what he saw as the best of any subject.  The earliest images in this collection date back to when Audubon was 18, and, says Harvard, they probably survived Audubon’s rolling erasure of his tracks in the hands of one of his patrons.  In any event, the images are gorgeous, and there for the gazing.

That said, the image above is a later Audubon not from the Houghton collection, as Harvard requires permission from the curator before reusing their images. I’m asking for same; if I get it, I’ll add one from this trove.

*Hah! Who am I kidding.  There are still Republicans with actual power!

Image:  John James Audubon, Plate 66 of Birds of America, depiction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, 1838.

My Kindergartener Could Solve Differential Equations Better Than That

August 25, 2011

Man, I so need a break from politics now.  Given that the Party of Lincoln has decisively transformed itself into that of — oh who the hell knows…say Tomato Hookworm-Space Aliens, and we can’t seem to build asylums fast enough to cage the crazy, I just hit the wall.

I know that I haven’t been posting much lately  —  the consequence of a summer deconstructed by the there-and-back-again frenzy of trips to surreal cities (Shanghai, Qatar) and the blessed internet-free cloister of the mountains.  But truly, my (unaccustomed) silence is born of the sense that the fools and knaves really have managed to gut the American, and perhaps the human experiment for good and all — or at least for that foreseeable future that includes my son’s maturity.

I don’t actually think that’s necessarily true, for a lot of reasons, including this one.  But still and all, it is good to read some stuff that had nothing to do with dominion and the amount of creativity some people can bring to bear on screwing the most vulnerable among us.

Like this, for example:

At a glance, a painting by Jackson Pollock can look deceptively accidental: just a quick flick of color on a canvas.

A quantitative analysis of Pollock’s streams, drips, and coils by Harvard mathematician L. Mahadevan and collaborators at Boston College reveals, however, that the artist had to be slow — he had to be deliberate — to exploit fluid dynamics in the way that he did.

The linked article at the Harvard Gazette is a bit of bait and switch.  Pollack wasn’t a physicist, of course, except in the sense that one of the qualities that distinguishes a great center fielder, for example, is the ability to solve the equation describing the curve traveled by a batted ball swiftly (and subconsciously) enough to make the most astounding catches seem …routine (almost).

But even if there is a difference between living physics and thinking  about it, there is a crucial overlap as well:

“My own interest,” said [mathematician/physicist] L. Mahadevan, “is in the tension between the medium — the dynamics of the fluid, and the way it is applied [written, brushed, poured …] — and the message. While the latter will eventually transcend the former, the medium can be sometimes limiting and sometimes liberating.”

Pollock’s signature style involved laying canvas on the floor and pouring paint onto it in continuous, curving streams. Rather than pouring straight from the can, he applied paint from a stick or a trowel, waving his hand back and forth above the canvas and adjusting the height and angle of the trowel to make the stream wider or thinner.

Simultaneously restricted and inspired by the laws of nature, Pollock took on the role of experimentalist, ceding some control to physics to create aesthetic effects.

The hunt for a deep connection between science and art is an old preoccupation of practitioners of both of those creative crafts.  I’ve written about instances of this cross-cutting desire in a couple of my books — Bach’s joining of the “society of musical sciences” in 1747; Einstein’s invocation of aesthetics, (calling Bohr’s 1913 theory of the atom an instance of “the highest form of musicality in the sphere of thought)” and so on.

Einstein’s quote captures what I think of as the nexus of the art-science connection:  a shared sense of both method and motivation.  For motivation:  artists and scientists don’t always find it easy to articulate why they do what they do — but when they reflect out loud on such questions, they regularly do in language that sounds strikingly similar.  Both guilds celebrate the pleasure of a rich problem, the joys of working things out, the sense of seeking deep truths and so on.

And by method, I mean not specific technique or intellectual apparatus: no one suggests that Pollack was actually solving the equations of fluid dynamics to derive the correct physical gestures he would need to produce the effects he wanted.  Rather this is a thought about process — about the combined impact of experimentation and seemingly spontaeneous imagination on both artistic and scientific investigations.  Here’s Mahadevan again:

The artist, of course, must have discovered the effects he could create through experimenting with various motions and types of paint, and perhaps some intuition and luck. But that, said Mahadevan, is the essence of science.

“We are all students of nature, and so was Pollock,” he explained. “Often, artists and artisans are far ahead, as they push boundaries in ways that are quite similar to, and yet different from, how scientists and engineers do the same.”

That’s a bit of a waffle, I’ll admit:  artists and scientists work the same way — except when they don’t.

But still, I get the point imperfectly made in that quote:  artful people across a wide range of domains share some crucial qualities of mind.  Here, Mahadevan calls out the two I think of as vital:  a delight in empiricism, and that sense of wonder in the face of material existence that sparks in the imagination glimpses of solvable problems.

That’s about all I would want to say on this, so I’ll sign off, with just this one last, probably unnecessary swerve back to my immediate political neuroses.  There are lots of ways to parse the catastrophic state of the Republican Party now — and by catastrophic, I mean for the nation, in that I don’t care if the GOP goes the way of the Whigs, but I’d rather they didn’t do so by partying as if it were 1861.

You can see that party’s debacle as rooted in class warfare, with uber-wealthy elites bankrolling a faux-populist insurgency.  You can, as Dennis G. does here, powerfully and accurately, trace the roots of the current fiasco in anxiety (and worse)n in the face of demographic (and, I’d add, technological and geo-political) transformation.  You can see strains of the millenia-long urban/rural battle. (In that context, I’ve long thought that Jane Jacobs late and less well known book Systems of Survival had a lot to say.  And if anyone were to suggest that there was pleasure as well as insight to be had in digging up the Mumford classic, The City in History, I’d not disagree.)

But to all of that I’d add this:  what’s been striking in the know-nothing ascendency in the GOP — the Rick Perry phenomenon and all the rest — is not so much that a grifter-Texan would have a pitch-perfect feel for every neurosis of the Republican primary electorate.  It’s that people who actually really do know better — I’m looking at you Mitt Romney — are trying to toe the same line, parroting the orthodoxy that empirical knowledge matters not in the face of certain revealed truths, and that active human agency (government!) cannot solve problems.

Artists, they are not.  Scientists neither.  In power they should not be.

Images: Jackson Pollack at work in his East Hampton studio, before 1956.

Willy Mays’ game-saving catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.