Happy Thanksgiving

I am, by request, roasting a chicken to be delivered as a side dish/alternative to turkey — for the non-turkey loving crowd.  Sure, it strikes me as a little odd.  But, this feast, as with most of the large-scale socializing I do, will be packed full of Japanese people.  They have a different logic about these things.  And, that’s something I’ve learned to not question.  I mean, it’s never turned out badly.

I went to an upscale store to buy a free-range chicken.  They were $22.  So, I got one that said “No Antibiotics”, figuring that was Eco- enough, and paid $9.

I bought some fresh rosemary, because trimming down what’s left of my own plant would surely have spelled it’s end.

I’m going to try rubbing the bird down with bacon grease before I roast it.  Because: bacon!

I’ll also be thankful if I have in fact finally managed to clean my broiler pan well enough that I won’t be delivering a smoked chicken.  It wasn’t hickory wood caked on there, you know.

Then, later, I will drive to a small house that was probably worth some $2 million last year, because, you know, it’s Northern Virginia, but this year is down to being worth only 5 times what it would cost in a flatter part of the country.  We will eat a spread of American and Japanese cuisine.  Some people will discuss their jobs in various government agencies using entire paragraphs comprised of nothing but acronyms and connecting verbs.  It’s actually quite impressive until you realize you tuned out several minutes ago.  It’s also proof that blustery-faced “outsider” politicians are either naive or just lying to you when they say they can “fix” Washington because they’ve never been there.

Then, we will all be thankful that we’re able to be there and eat those things.

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In Which Crazy Uncle Meteechart Never Told You What Your Piano Recital Really Sounded Like

Sunday…

Sunday, a vortex created by my own inaction sucked me into a youth piano and choir recital.

Yeah.

Not only do I not have any children who play piano, I don’t have any children at all.  I don’t have any children who sing and I don’t have children who play with children that do and thereby obligate me to appreciate the nascent talents of my friends’ children.

So, I honestly still don’t know how I ended up there.  I know better than to ask my wife, although she could probably explain it all.

We arrived and climbed past a small-ish mob of Japanese children, dressed in their once-a-year finest and cavorting all over the steps, with and without Gameboys, under the unflinching eye of mothers who have let their inordinate admiration convince them that all of this is cute — over the muffled inner voice of their compulsions for social harmony and other watered down Confucianisms.  Because, that’s the crowd I roll with.

It was an appropriate introduction for what would follow.

It still amazes me, after all these years, how something so simple as stopping to remember which notes come next (over and over again) can totally ruin just about any composition.

Who needs rhythm anyway?  I mean, I pressed the keys for every note on the page, and even in same the order they’re written…

Fortunately, after a short time, a young woman in a navy blue dress sat down and it was as if someone finally turned on the music, perhaps to drown out all the noise.  She really was good; her playing had both emotion and sensitivity. After hearing her, you had to wonder how the kids who made the terrible racket just a moment earlier had mustered the courage to go on stage.

It had me pining for a time then there was a bar set at which a person was considered ready to perform.  “Practice your finger spans son, you’re not going out there with those chops.”  You couldn’t resist the thought if you were sitting where I was.

Thus my story came to be written on a blog called Teaching Artist. It’s that that’s just not the way we do it in our culture.  We put our students on stage pretty much whenever they feel like going up there.  And, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.  Really.  Being on stage is a good experience, so why put it off, right?  Practice is good.   Making pictures and playing music is good (note presumptive leap).  Then, every once in a while, especially during holiday seasons, we’ll all gather around you and clap our hands after you have demonstrated your attempt to do these things.  It seems very nice and very positive.

I’ve certainly installed a few exhibitions of notably unimpressive student art works.

Well, here’s an interesting aside:  Unlike music, visual art by children often has its fair share of sincere charm.  That’s why it was subject to the attention of so many 20th century modernists, as were paintings by the clinically insane.  It’s not really until art students hit their teens that some of them become capable of true visual offense.  Welcome to college ART 101…

So what is the best way to develop great artists and musicians?

… should we set standards and keep them off the stage and carry big heavy rulers while we teach?

Ha.  It was a trick question.  The thing to ask is why we teach our kids to paint and to play piano in the first place.

Almost no one enrolls their kids in art classes to that they will become artists.  Almost no one wants their kids to become artists.  “Musician!  Is that an earring, son?” Don’t get sappy.  It’s true.  Shit, if you’re in a Red State, your parents would probably just has soon have taught you Russian Roulette.

The thing is that learning to make art and music is the best way to learn to understand them.  Understanding them gives us access to centuries of thought an insight that very intelligent people have inscribed into images and notes.  Even most people who won’t risk their kids to the art world still perceive some value in art.  Everybody likes some sort of music.  Then, learning creative fields also gives us all sorts of byproduct skills that often have more impact than the art or music itself, like self discipline, self knowledge, critical analysis, and even hand-eye coordination.

So, I suppose that’s why most of us don’t seem bothered one bit by watching our kids just absolutely butcher the core principles of visual and musical composition.  Those aren’t the reasons we put our kids up there in the first place.  My history of unsteady employment is certainly grateful for all the non-majors who have come through my classroom.  (Truth is, at least in the intro classes, non-art majors usually put in a lot more effort than art majors — there’s a bit of “Uh, I’m not good at anything else” that leads kids to temporarily major in art.) I honestly believe that my classes benefited future artists and non future artists alike.

But, if you’ll let me whack kids with a ruler when they misuse the principles of design, I can’t say I’m beyond doing it.

Which Horseman is This?

The surest sign that the art world is taking a solid hit in the falling economy:

Christie’s New York to offer Maritime Paintings Sale

Painter of Boats

Seriously though, if you’re a painter and you need to bring in some cash, paint boats.

Because, if there’s one subset of the population incapable of bringing perspective to bear upon blowing huge amounts of cash, for which the gulf between “want” and “need” is so blurry as to not exist, it’s boating enthusiasts.

Unfortunate, from where I sit, is that I’m so far removed from the yachting class that I don’t think I could get nautical painting right even if I tried.  See the slanting angle of the ships’ masts?  I couldn’t do that without painting in a polka dotted Kraken emerging from the water to drag them back to the 18th century, where they belong.

The Last Symbol of the Man Who Tried to Kill America

Forever, now, when we look back in catharsis and disgust at the reign of the younger Bush, we can just say, “He pardoned a guy who killed bald eagles.”  It will be metaphor powerful enough to span the reality that none of us possess a memory capable of recalling the entire list of fuckups and atrocities brought about under that man’s authority.  And, it will also be an actual truth.

From Wonkette, the only blog you’ll ever need for keeping up on DC politics:

Of the 14 convicted criminals pardoned by still-president George W. Bush today, one of them got in trouble for poisoning American Bald Eagles: ‘Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 1995 to unlawfully killing three bald eagles in southeast Missouri.’

Sometimes life just hands you these symbols — you couldn’t make them up on your own.

Landing a Community College Teaching Job

Philosophy Factory has a great post of advice for those who are seeking a faculty position at a community college.  It is: http://philosophyfacotry.blogspot.com/2008/11/philosophy-jobs-part-two-writing-cover.html

(It’s a follow up to Part 1, which is more of an opinion and overview of CC teaching.)

I wanted to post a link to it because a (relative) fair amount of people surf through here looking for academic job application stuff.  My posts on the subject are mostly relegated to the moaning category − fumes emanating from the horrible stink of what I went through last spring before I decided that the labor relations and the astounding paradoxes lurking within academic hiring practices made academia an industry I was no longer going to sacrifice all other aspects of my life just to stay within.  If you really want to know more about that, go back to January in the archives and read forward.

I do however:

  1. Love community college teaching.
  2. React rather harshly to the snobbery toward community college teaching often espoused among university faculty.  — I’ve been both.  And let me tell you that a whole lot of university students wish their professors valued teaching a little more highly.  You all know what Aristotle said about teaching.
  3. Wish to reiterate that teaching full-time in a community college presents a combination of challenges that many faculty would rather not face.
  4. Want to tell you that I have not had a student in any of the community colleges I’ve taught at that was unlike one or more students I’ve taught in universities, nor vice versa.  However, the percentage of “difficult” students – i.e. those who would rather not be there, who need help becoming psychologically prepared for college (which is altogether different than learning speed or academic preparation) – is often considerably higher than it is in 4-year schools.
  5. That said, there are far less spoiled brats with inflated senses of entitlement in community colleges.  Personally, I’d rather deal with helping late teen/early 20-somethings grow up than try to maintain my patience with the overprivileged set.
  6. In community colleges, I’ve also had a higher percentage of very mature, self motivated students – often older, sometimes going back to school after “screwing up” – who were a joy to teach, than I’ve seen in the big state universities I’ve taught at.
  7. Think that teaching is very emotionally rewarding.  It is so whether you’re a Nobel laureate at an R1 (I imagine) or as an adult literacy volunteer at a community center.  That’s to say that CC teaching is best for those of you who want that emotional reward.
  8. Want to tell you that if unappreciative and unconcerned students drive you over the edge into Rate Your Students territory, you should probably find another profession.
  9. Think you should know that bureaucracy will madden you no matter where you go in higher ed.  Moreover, in all cases, you will be asked to smile through some absolute bullshit at the behest of your institution.
  10. Also want to lay out on the table that when I moved from a 1-year full-time at a big state U to a 1-year full-time at a CC, I got a more than 30% pay raise.

Ahhh, Dee Cee…

In case I’m never gracious enough to remember to say it again, I would like to take this moment to tell you that I’m just enamored to be living in my city that is so uber-laden with cultural institutions, and non-institutionalized culture too.  That’s even if I am stuck for the moment way out in formerly Confederate suburbs.

Without even trying to go back and replace it with a real word, I’d also like to confess that I’m aware that “uber-laden” sounds like something fat old men wear when they want to polka dance.

Yesterday I went down to Union Station to meet a friend who had a few hours in DC in between trains from elsewhere to elsewhere.

Because I don’t have anything else to do all day, I went in to town early.  No… really, I don’t.

I wandered in to the National Gallery of Art.  And here’s what’s cool about DC:  the National Gallery is FREE!  Take that Met! You just walk right in like it’s your own back yard.  (Unless you’re carrying a bag, that is.  Then, guys in uniforms will search it.)

So, when you enter the East Building, off to the corner, tucked between the door and the Andy Goldsworthy rocks, are a few rooms dedicated to “Small French Paintings“.  Seeing that I just don’t have the constitution to take on the entire National Gallery in a day, I usually beeline among select bits and pieces.  And, honestly, “small”, “French”, and “paintings”?  I’d never been in there because I expected a bunch of things like what you’ll see if you click on the link.  A handful of less ambitious Fragonards, maybe…

Those galleries were awesome though.   They had up a handful of early paintings by Bonnard that were well structured, and fairly normal. (huh?) I’d never seen early Bonnards.  It warmed my heart to see evidence that he wasn’t just born the greatest genius of color that the Western world may have ever seen.  The paintings he did when he was younger show the beginnings of things that would later become such complex and astounding interactions of color.  The early paintings are a testament to work, and I enjoyed that.

The same room also had several early Vuillards that came across as something that Morandi might have been looking back to.  Very nice indeed.

Now, recently, I’ve felt turned off by the pretension and discursiveness in a good deal of post-war and post-post-war art.  Of late I’ve had trouble reconciling that a field so disparaging of decoration would embrace an Ellsworth Kelly installation like the one at the National Gallery.  The mental trickery that explains it and makes it seem “smart” has fallen flat with me.

So, after the little French paintings, I went straight to the Medieval Galleries.  Now let it be known that I love medieval painting.  It all started when I spent some time in the Romanesque galleries at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, back in the day.  At the National Gallery (of America) yesterday, my take on the best of it was the Italian Byzantine Painting and two works by the Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes (a.k.a. the Borgo Crucifix Master).   In all cases I am in consort with those who consider medieval art as outside of the Western tradition − in the way that it clashes with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but that fits so well into pluralist 20th-21st century art.

For one, I find something compelling in pre-proto-Renaissance attitudes toward the role of craft in painting.  I get the sense that the workshops were turning these things out as fast as they could land contracts to make them.  It’s awesome.  There is a pursuit of a kind of perfection very different than those that fit easily into contemporary painting.  In medieval art, there is a way of doing things, the way of doing things.  Abbreviations are systematized, but corners are never cut.  Rather than set out to paint something that looks just like a real robe, medieval painters set out to create something that their audience would know is supposed mean “robe”.  The Mourning Madonna never even considers capturing the “essence” of sadness (yuck, Plato…) so much as portray a face that looks enough like a sad woman so that you’ll know she is sad.  I’m endlessly intrigued by how medieval painters created signifiers by blending visual similarity and widely understood symbolism.  And, I think that those approaches have close parallels in contemporary vernacular uses of images and objects − in advertising, kitsch, souvenirs, in mantle displays, scrapbooks, and even god-awful shadow boxes.

After about the year 1400 though, it’s just downhill.  Sure, sometimes a totally screwed up stab at linear perspective will create an interesting spatial tension.  But, with or without cute little naked cherubs, once things start heading toward Classicism and representation, y’all can have you’re ninja turtle names.  And, yeah, I do really harbor an ugly disdain for Platonic philosophy.

Ahh.

So, I went up to Union Station, had coffee, a sandwich…  met with friend… bought an xmas gift for 19.95$ and didn’t even have to pay shipping & handling…

Then, speaking of medieval themes and such, I walked up to Irvine Contemporary to see the Al Farrow sculptures I mentioned the other day.  They were a little bit dingier than they appear in the photos.  It’s for the good though – they still come across as finely crafted, labored, and polished.  The bit of dinge (from the welding) lends well to the overall darkness.

I’ll also add that work by Shephard Fairey was a little better than I had expected.  That’s to say that they have a material quality that is probably only appreciable in-person.  They’re still pretty dumb though.  On the other hand, they are a nice testament to the value of self-confidence far and above limiting your audience by, you know, using stuff like complex thought.  Then, to round out the show, the back room with “posters” for the Manifesto for a People’s Republic of Antartica, or whatever, is just about the dumbest, least ambitious thing I’ve seen in that pretentious of a gallery in a very long time.  It’s an insult to Al Farrow to lump them into the same show.

Hope — Suburban Sprawl Edition

From the Sunday Washington Post:

Big Box & Beyond Today’s Temples of Consumption Don’t Have To Be Tomorrow’s Ruins. What’s in Store?
(may require you to log in – not that I’d set up an online newspaper that way if I ran one)

The Washington Post invited some artists, architects, and engineers to create proposals for repurposing abandoned big box stores.  Images and blurbs about the proposals are here.  They include a couple of nice designs, an expected green-utopia idea, and a suggestion to convert big box stores into litter boxes for giant cats.

It all calls to mind notfoolinganybody.com.

To quote from the article,

This lesson looms because we’re going to have to figure out what to do with a whole lot of big boxes, and soon. There are thousands of them — vast prairies of Targets and Bed Bath & Beyonds and Costcos and Home Depots. Wal-Mart alone has 4,224 in the United States, more than half of them Supercenters into which, on average, you could comfortably fit four NFL football fields.

The “best” part:

More typical, however, is the situation at Walmartrealty.com. At last count there were 189 Wal-Marts for sale, and not because business is bad. A typical available Wal-Mart might be a 40,000-square-foot store (about the size of a football field) that was replaced by a 80,000-square-foot store that was so successful it has been replaced with a 200,000-square-foot store just down the road…

Me?  I imagine American small towns of the mid 21st century that are comprised of nothing but repurposed big box stores.  It would be like the saddest, most Brutalist rendition of a Le Corbusier “ideal” city.

In the corner of one of the big boxes, there will be a museum housing pictures the towns that used to be there.

Outside of Pittsburgh, visible from I-297 (coming in from NW Ohio), perched atop a formiddable hill, there is a target that conveys more than a little of the aura of a Benedictine Abbey.  It gives reason to pause.  And, maybe I listened to too much punk rock back when I was impressionable, but having seen that store glow in the rakish sunlight, I can’t resist the fantasy of some sort of populist and/or anarchist revolution to take those things over to remake them for the benefit of a non consumption-focused culture.

The article appears to have been inspired by a soon to be released book called Big Box Reuse, by Julia Christensen.  The website for the project is bigboxreuse.com − with a fun wiki, for those of you who are into that kind of thing.