It’s the sort of day where you shoot a picture out the window and hope the camera chooses the raindrops for its Favorite Focus Thing, and everything in the background is blurry and wistful. The sort of day where you wake to rain and remember how you were woken in the early AM with torrents battering on the windows. In the winter, inclement weather in the middle of the night makes you burrow into the bedclothes and feel cozy and safe; in the summer, it’s as if you’re dimly aware of some angry battle outside that may or may not affect you, depending on whether a tree limb goes down. The neighbors lost a tree the other day; their neighbors lost a room. Wasn’t even a storm. The tree just fell over. A hundred years of standing around, a hundred inhalations in spring and exhalation in the fall. A root died; the ground shifted; perhaps a leaping squirrel was the straw that broke its back, and it could take no more weight.
Never bought that straw / camel’s back business. One straw isn’t going to do it. If you can take 400 pounds on your back, you can take 401 pounds. It’s 450 that leads to back-cracking. No camel screams out in pain when an additional blade of straw is added to their burden. I could take all that, but now you’re just being cruel.
May I brag for a moment? Came home from the office, asked Daughter what she'd done. Actually, this being the modern world, I texted her from the backyard, because I hadn't gone in the house yet and it beats shouting.
I DID ART she texted back. And indeed she had.
Yes, the bracelet says BRO. It's a joke amongst her friends, a little tip of a fin breaking the water to indicate a vast school swimming below the surface, unknown to the Parents.
Not to make Tuesday the weekly Art Column, in which the same thing is repeated over and over through people who pop up and reinforce my slender tenets, but, well, yes. And so:
One of my first published pieces concerned the “performance artist” Chris Burden, who did dangerous thing to make us Think. I referred to one of his exhibitions as “Burden on Society,” a line of which I was inordinately proud. This Commentary piece discusses the problems Burden-type Artists face today:
Placing things in context is what contemporary students do best. What they do not do is judge. Instead there was the same frozen polite reserve one observes in the faces of those attending an unfamiliar religious service—the expression that says, I have no say in this. This refusal to judge or take offense can be taken as a positive sign, suggesting tolerance and broadmindedness.
But there is a broadmindedness so roomy that it is indistinguishable from indifference, and it is lethal. For while the fine arts can survive a hostile or ignorant public, or even a fanatically prudish one, they cannot long survive an indifferent one. And that is the nature of the present Western response to art, visual and otherwise: indifference.
Now why could that be.
Actually, there are many reasons, and not just because "indifference" is the proper reaction to much of modern art - particularly the ones that DEMAND you care at least as much as the artist. The author takes us back 100 years, when the artists’ response to the carnage of WW1 would be the elevation of ugliness, to show the busted, broken body as emblematic of war’s horrors (in previous wars, I gather, people were just stabbed, and fell over mostly intact.)
After World War II and the introduction of the atom bomb, it seemed pointless to try to preserve the confused traditions of a civilization that had brought the world to the ledge of oblivion. Instead, the artists came to believe they had to dispense with the entire accumulated storehouse of artistic memory and the history of the benighted West in order to begin anew.
The 1950s painter Barnett Newman summarized this line of thought pretentiously but accurately:
We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of western European painting. Instead of making “cathedrals” out of Christ, man, or “life,” we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.
Which is the difference between adults and adolescents. The primary feeling, of course, would be anger (at war, at hypocrisy, at whatever faults in Western Civ consumed the artist at the moment) and sentimental longing, a forward-facing nostalgia, for the Utopia that would result from burning down the accumulated storehouse. (After it had been looted, of course, and the more interesting pieces put up on their mantles.)
How did the atom bomb make the artists think it was pointless to preserve the traditions? Because their use would do away with things, I suppose, but the end result was a culture pre-exhausted for your convenience, one that had assumed the end was nigh and spent its time making grotesque faces in the mirror. It would have been just as potent a response - more so - if they had embraced the positive history of Western Civ and exalted its possibilities, but they were a joyless lot, and the joyless feel judged in the presence of beauty.
There’s also the matter of “The Atom Bomb” as a stand-in for something. An instrument arbitrarily employed to fulfill some deep-down need for death? Did your average citizen think “boy, there’s nothing left in the tank for our culture and way of life; hope they reduce everything to a hellish landscape of cinders and rubble pretty darn soon, but first I want to get up to the cabin for some fishing.” Stories of grace and beauty in pre-war Paris, living under the shadow of a tangible foe that was literally on the march, are supposed to be tributes to Man’s Indomitable Spirit or something, but the idea that there’s a nuclear balance between two disparate systems that keeps each in check is reason to smear grey on the canvas.
BTW, I’m not judging the author, who’s doing a Cook’s Tour of the previous century’s art history. He winds up with Sontag’s notes on the rise of the Ironic, the rise of Camp, the new fashion for putting everything in quotation marks, which - to me, anyway - may not have brought joy back, but added Fun. But this was a pause, the last little Dionysian twitch before art got political. Then you had a class of artists a few generations away from the original impulse to reject tradition, and a political class who would revisit tradition only to find it steeped in sin.
This was the counterculture that emerged after the collapse of the postwar liberal consensus, and its stance was essentially adversarial, distinguished by hostility to the existing order. It viewed the advanced industrial society of the West not as the highest development of human civilization but rather as a corrupt enterprise whose shameful legacy was slavery, colonialism, and exploitation.
And so on and so on through the conceptual art of the 70s, the “body art” of the 80s and 90s (the author’s description of a “performance artist”’s attempt to have multiple miscarriages is rather horrifying) until we reach the stage we are at today, which is to say everything is a stage, everything is art, it’s everywhere, and everyone is indifferent. But behold the paradox:
Even as the public was flinching from the excesses of performance art and abject art, it was embracing museums as never before. The newly opened Whitney is the last of New York’s four major museums to renovate, enlarge, or replace its home in recent years.
I’m writing this as I go along with the piece, so I wonder if he’ll draw the same conclusion.I think that museums thrived because going to a museum signified that you were a cultured person, an interesting person, a person open to new things, or at least a person who read the Style section in the newspaper. Having an opinion that was other than laudatory was judgmental, but could be excused if you demonstrated that you understood the artist’s intentions.
You can read what he concludes, but I keep coming back to the same things: it's not that art is irrelevant, or that people are indifferent to Art, Period, but that High Art has removed itself from a conversation with the culture, and now lectures from barren cul-de-sacs to acolytes in sack-cloths. The art of movies can be much more impressive than a silly video installation of disembodied lips moving in poor sync to a Brazillian folk song to indicate something poverty something Catholocism; the art of contemporary music engages where the abstractions of post-Romantic pain-inducing shriekfests just makes people feel like they've stuck their head in a blender full of broken glass.
The students in the author's class have strong opinions about art. Just not the stuff that's insulated from criticism because the artist occupies the realm of the permissably pedantic.
More of the endlessly customizable Kelvinator, for when Milady truly, absoutely, needed to Kevinate.
Not sure they sold too many of the Don Quixotes.
The Don Q model seems to be for smaller kitchens, or taller women. The Town & Country oozes old money, doesn't it? Even looks a bit tatty and battered, like the cottage down at the Old Place founded by Winn Jr.'s grandpap. You know, the one who founded Amalgamated Zinc.
Summertime at its best: the pool full of warm water and grass clippings.
Who set out this pool miles from any house, I don't know. But the real issue here is the delights and benefits of America's favorite wonder-wearing petrochemical derivative, KRENE.
Made by Bakelite, previously associated with the hard plastic material they used for telephone coverings. Wikipedia describes it as "an early plastic," which seems about right. Why, it's a National Historic Chemical Landmark, to inform you of something you may not have known existed. A little history:
Baekeland was already wealthy, due to his invention of Velox photographic paper, when he began to investigate the reactions of phenol and formaldehyde in his home laboratory.
Wife must have loved the smell.
Chemists had begun to recognize that many natural resins and fibres were polymers. Baekeland's initial intent was to find a replacement for shellac, a material that was in limited supply because it was made naturally from the excretion of lac bugs. Baekeland produced a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac called "Novolak", but it was not a market success.
I had no idea there were lac bugs. There were. And are. Another tidbit:
Soviet heatshields for ICBM warheads and spacecraft reentry consisted of asbestos textolite, impregnated with Bakelite.
Lovely. Anyway, as you see above, you can have a Krene liner; you can physically abuse a mean Kreme apparation. Below, more Krene:
Like floating on a cloud! A smelly cloud with a sharp seam.
There wasn't a famous circus fat woman named Big Bertha. After WW1, which featured an enormous gun with the BB name, the term was applied generically. Or so I believe. I just made that up.
I believe that's Hank Ketchum's signature.
It's non-carbonated: pure fun for everyone! The colon suggests that the lack of carbonation ensures both universal enjoyment and purity. As in, it's non-carbonatred, hence it's pure fun for everyone.
General Foods sold the brand to a Japanese concern in '53, and you can still get it over there. I'm almost afraid to check YouTube for commercials. If only for the pronunciation.
Fresh: now there's a clever name.
Frosty not waxy. While the "not waxy" part's good, and makes you realize that lots of pit-sticks were probably like rubbing a candle under your arm, "Frosty" makes it sound as if it has a topical anesthetic.
I remember this guy.
"Women told Frank." They trusted him from the Today show. As for the NORGE orb, the technical term is "NORGE balls." A few still exist.
An old page here lists some surviving balls; half of the ones that are listed as extant seem gone. Storms, time, and indifference.
It was a division of Borg-Warner, and we all know what they smelled like inside, don't we? Detergent, warm water, and electricity.
Our final piece of summer Product for this week:
I'll bet that thing was as loud as a locomotive. And no one cared.
Interesting tech: "Thrifty Twin" mean two systems! Use one or both! Won't under-cool or over-cool.
I think this meant you turned one on, or both.
Automatic operation "where electric utilities permit." Wonder how they'd know.
That'll do, I hope. If not, a refund is in the mail. But before you ask, check out Frank Reade's weekly roundup of electrical gizmos & creature zappers! See you around.