Althouse | category: art



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"The thing about writing a good song is that it tells you something about yourself you didn’t already know.... The good song is always rushing forward. It annihilates..."

"... to some degree, the songs that you’d previously written, because you are moving forward all the time. That’s what the creative impulse is—it’s both creative and destructive and is always one step ahead of you. These impulses can’t be replicated by a machine. Maybe A.I. can make a song that’s indistinguishable from what I can do.... But... that’s not what art is. Art has to do with our limitations, our frailties, and our faults as human beings. It’s the distance we can travel away from our own frailties."

"That’s what is so awesome about art: that we deeply flawed creatures can sometimes do extraordinary things. A.I. just doesn’t have any of that stuff going on. Ultimately, it has no limitations, so therefore can’t inhabit the true transcendent artistic experience. It has nothing to transcend! It feels like such a mockery of what it is to be human. A.I. may very well save the world, but it can’t save our souls. That’s what true art is for. That’s the difference. So, I don’t know, in my humble opinion ChatGPT should just fuck off and leave songwriting alone."

"We tend to overstate the poverty of the style that precedes a style we admire..."

"... histories of rock and roll treat what accompanied it on the airwaves of the fifties as if the music were all 'Sing Along with Mitch' and 'How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?,' when it was also Sinatra’s concept albums, Sarah Vaughan’s collaborations with George Treadwell, and Dave Brubeck’s million-selling recording of a jazz instrumental in five-four time. And so we remember paperback books, pre-Push Pin, as either clinically bare, as with Modern Library editions, or outlandishly lurid, as with an edition of 'Madame Bovary' featuring an Ava Gardner-style femme fatale, complete with slipping negligee....There was, in truth, much ambitious 'art' illustration in those years, including Ben Shahn’s covers for S. J. Perelman and Kauffer’s cover for Ralph Ellison’s 'Invisible Man.'"

Here are those Ben Shahn covers.

Here's that Kauffer cover.

And I think this might be the referenced "outlandishly lurid" "Madame Bovary" cover:

Or... this fits the description better (but it's a British edition):

"This process of fear, this Russian complex of being a small person, is a state of mind. We grew up with it and we’re always afraid. You’re a tiny person..."

"... opposed to a huge country and it treats you as a tool to serve its purpose. You’re supposed to follow the rules and keep quiet and if you’re different, they’ll crush you."

Said one underground artist, quoted in "To see Russia’s secret antiwar art: Meet at a bus stop. At dark. Phones off." (WaPo).

"We were afraid if we had an exhibition the police would come and arrest us, so we decided to be underground. It’s like turning the lock back to the Soviet years."

I'd like to understand more about "this Russian complex of being a small person." Is it mainly the opposite of individualism? 

This isn't something that is easy to google. Wikipedia has an article "Little Russian identity," which is something else. And I found many articles about the physical smallness of Vladimir Putin, such as "Vladimir Putin and the rise of the 'short kings'/Critics suggest Russian leader has 'Napoleon complex' but numerous world leaders match his stature" (The Week) and, from 2018, "Putin, a Little Man Still Trying to Prove His Bigness" (The New Yorker)("'He walks like someone who thinks, How do I walk like a cool guy?' a seasoned Russia expert told me...).

"Founded at the pinnacle of the British Empire, the [Manchester Museum] is now undergoing a rethink..."

"... led by its director Esme Ward. In her post since 2018, Ward wants to make the free-of-charge institution more inclusive, imaginative and caring. She has repatriated 43 ceremonial and sacred objects to Aboriginal communities in Australia, and appointed a curator to re-examine the collections from an Indigenous perspective.... 'All of us in museums have a responsibility to really think about who they are for, not just what they are for,' Ward said in a recent interview in her office, which has a velvet sofa and a framed poster reading 'No Sexists, No Racists, No Fascists.' Calling museums 'empathy machines,' she said their mission extended beyond caring for objects and collections to 'caring for beliefs and ideas and relationships,' and being 'a space that brings people together.'"

Empathy machines.

Empathy machines.

Empathy machines.

What if there were a machine that could manufacture empathy? It would be a torture device! What did your literal mind — if you have one — picture? I thought first of the machine in Kafka's "Penal Colony," then of the device strapped to Malcolm McDowell's head in "A Clockwork Orange."

But, you may say, a museum that's an empathy machine cannot be a torture device because nobody is forced to go to the museum or to stay there, but that's not true. Kids are forced. 

Why would someone who loves art — does Ms. Ward love art?! — think of the museum as a machine? To help you think about her thinking, here's art about a machine, Paul Klee's "Twittering Machine":

Extra background:
Originally displayed in Germany, the image was declared "degenerate art" by Adolf Hitler in 1933 and sold by the Nazi Party to an art dealer in 1939, whence it made its way to New York.... 
The picture depicts a group of birds, largely line drawings; all save the first are shackled on a wire or, according to The Washington Post, a "sine-wave branch" over a blue and purple background which the MoMA equates with the "misty cool blue of night giving way to the pink flow of dawn." Each of the birds is open-beaked, with a jagged or rounded shape emerging from its mouth, widely interpreted as its protruding tongue. The end of the perch dips into a crank.... 
"Perhaps no other artist of the 20th century matched Klee's subtlety as he deftly created a world of ambiguity and understatement that draws each viewer into finding a unique interpretation of the work."... 
Sometimes, the image is perceived as quite dark. MoMA suggests that, while evocative of an "abbreviated pastoral", the painting inspires "an uneasy sensation of looming menace" as the birds themselves "appear closer to deformations of nature". 
They speculate that the "twittering machine" may in fact be a music box that produces a "fiendish cacophony" as it "lure[s] victims to the pit over which the machine hovers". 
Kay Larson of New York magazine (1987), too, found menace in the image, which she describes as "a fierce parable of the artist's life among the philistines": "Like Charles Chaplin caught in the gears of Modern Times, they [the birds] whir helplessly, their heads flopping in exhaustion and pathos. One bird's tongue flies up out of its beak, an exclamation point punctuating its grim fate—to chirp under compulsion." 
Arthur Danto, who does not see the birds as deformed mechanical creatures but instead as separate living elements, speculates in Encounters & Reflections (1997) that "Klee is making some kind of point about the futility of machines, almost humanizing machines into things from which nothing great is to be hoped or feared, and the futility in this case is underscored by the silly project of bringing forth by mechanical means what nature in any case provides in abundance."... 
Since a characteristic of chirping birds is that their racket resumes as soon as it seems to be ending, the bird in the center droops with lolling tongue, while another begins to falter in song; both birds will come up again full blast as soon as the machine's crank is turned.

What a cool art project: A realistic-looking action-figure set of The DiGrasso Men from "The White Lotus."

At Reddit, someone asks "What's your method here? Kit bashing other toys or are you like molding yourself? Either way this is such cool art!" 

The artist answers "They're 3d sculpts that I do in Blender and then 3d print and paint. The heads are entirely my own designs and then the bodies are usually scans of existing toys that I alter(I like to call that digital kitbashing haha)." 

The execution is great, and I love the idea that there would be action figures of the characters from "The White Lotus," though the comedy of unusual choices for action figures has been around for decades.

By the way, I am such a "White Lotus" fan that I not only rewatched both seasons and watched both seasons of Mike White's earlier show "Enlightened," I rewatched the season of "Survivor" where he was a contestant, and I've started reading books I see recommended in "Mike White's Top 10 Books." I chose the book that someone I know in real life has leaned on me to read. Him, I resisted. But somehow Mike White wants me to read it, and I believe. 

The person I know in real life insisted that I would love this author because I would feel that this is the way I would write if I wrote literary novels. Mike White, on the other hand, said:
"The most uncanny and sober of fever dreams. What the fuck are these books? Why did I chew through them – as if they were the most compelling of murder mysteries – yet nothing ever happens and I can’t remember a thing after putting them down? Dissociative perambulations but written with such urgency. These books cast a spell on me. Maybe Rachel Cusk is a witch." 

If you're wondering whether I'm having the feeling that the person I know in real life said I would have, the answer is no. But sometimes I hit sentences that amuse me to imagine being the person who wrote them and to wonder about this person I know who thinks this is just the sort of thing I'd come up with:

I remembered then an evening I’d spent in a bar a few years ago, with a group of people that included a married couple I didn’t know. The woman kept identifying attractive girls and drawing her husband’s attention to them; they sat there and discussed the attributes of the various girls, and were it not for the grimace of utter desperation I glimpsed on the woman’s face when she thought no one was looking, I would have believed this was an activity both of them enjoyed.

It sounds like "White Lotus"!  

"Our exaggerated reverence for the creative impulse derives from the romantics of the early 19th century... and filtered through from intellectual bohemia..."

"... to the upper middle classes.... Now, quite banal instances of human creativity are preposterously overvalued. Witness the often conceited superiority of those in only tangentially creative professions. Why should a newspaper columnist or an advertising copywriter feel himself to be more interesting than a banker or a cleaner? I have lawyer friends who complain of the rictus countenances and slipping eye-contact they get from artistic types at parties. But I know those parties. And I know my lawyers are the most interesting people in the room. ... [Some] argue that AI cannot be creative because it lacks internal understanding, is merely a 'king of pastiche'.... But this is close to what those original artists were doing too — the artist’s great struggle, the critic Harold Bloom argues, is confronting and overcoming the influence of predecessors. And does it even matter what’s going on internally now that human audiences fail to distinguish between a composition by a robot and one by Bach...?...  AI should disillusion us of the spurious glamour of creativity. It will be good for those who have suffered the social condescension of 'creatives.'"

"It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not 'supersede' academic freedom, the two coexist."

Said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the Hamline University’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the university's president.

"Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep. In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed."

Quoted in "After Lecturer Sues, Hamline University Walks Back Its ‘Islamophobic’ Comments/In an about-face, the school said that using the term was 'flawed' and that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom" (NYT).

The lecturer, Erika López Prater, is suing based on religious discrimination and defamation. 

The lawsuit [asserts] that Hamline treated Dr. López Prater negatively because “she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

ADDED: Watters and Miller fail to state clearly that López Prater was not Islamophobic. They don't admit that it was wrong. They say, "Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed." Why was the "usage" "flawed"? In context, it looks as though they're asserting a belief in academic freedom, and that's something they are under pressure to do in response to the lawsuit. They haven't withdrawn the opinion that López Prater was Islamophobic, but merely acknowledged that out of respect for López Prater's academic freedom, they should not use the term. And I don't even see them as confessing that the term shouldn't have been used at the time. It's only now that they "have learned" more about the controversy, the use of the term is "flawed." They've left room to argue that when the controversy was new and the desire to "support[] our Muslim students" was strong, it was acceptable not to perceive the flaw in the use of the term.

"We tend to overstate the poverty of the style that precedes a style we admire...""Founded at the pinnacle of the British Empire, the [Manchester Museum] is now undergoing a rethink...""Jesus Christ is Alive"... trending on Twitter.

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