Archive for February, 2019

Still Stylish

Posted: February 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Today In Pompeii!

Posted: February 14, 2019 in Uncategorized

Interdisciplinary Fellowships! $$$

Posted: February 14, 2019 in Uncategorized

I don’t suppose any of you have more than one major. If you do, NCHC (National Collegiate Honors Council) may have $5000 for you.

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Culture of the highest order is of one of the most fragile achievements of humanity. It does not simply emerge on its own but requires constant vigilance and nurturing if it is to endure. It is for this reason that culture, in virtually every society we have ever known, has always been the province of the wealthy and leisured, and those few talented and determined individuals for whom the wealthy and leisured are willing to act as patrons. Those forced to work for their survival – peasants, factory laborers, bourgeois types, and even academics, who these days are also worked to death – simply don’t have the available means whereby to cultivate a genuine sense of discernment. Increasingly, Greenberg adds, even the ruling classes, now that work and leisure have become ever more distinct from one another, are becoming excessively addicted to work. And the result of this mania for work is the impoverishment of leisure time.

This cannot be otherwise than the case in a capitalist society, because competition, which is a fundamental component of that system, requires that everyone attempt to get ahead of everyone else. The moment anyone relaxes in any aspect of the total process of production, that person can rest assured that the competition will gain the upper hand. Capitalism, by definition, must constantly expand into new markets, creep into and colonize ever more minute areas of private life. Leisure time, to the extent it exists at all anymore, increasingly has come to mean idle time, those remaining moments in life when we are too tired to do anything other than chill out with cheap beer and stare at the TV. Who today would ever consider spending not just a couple of hours but their weekend or summer vacation studying difficult philosophy texts or doing a detailed comparison of the Picasso and Braque? Everyone today, regardless of their class, is equally exhausted (and if someone is not exhausted – which increasingly the new state of nature – we have products which, either sooner or later, will make them that way). Today, everybody is equally determined, either inwardly or outwardly, simply to escape any immediate encounter with hard reality. The human organism, if not the muscles then certainly the brain (Greenberg mentions this explicitly) is simply too tired. And so we reach not even for a decent wine but instead a cold, watery “beer”. Culture, in general, is in a state of danger.

The genuine danger, at least for Greenberg, is that we will lapse back into a state of utter barbarism, interested only in fulfilling our most instinctual needs and desires. This we might this call a lapse back into animal nature, which for Greenberg would be something quite distinct from “human nature”. Genuine culture, valid culture, can exist only on a higher, properly abstract level. Human consciousness certainly can and does evolve, just as the human body evolves. The problem both Greenberg and Eliot identify is that technology, most recently in the form of large-scale industry, is evolving far more rapidly than are either the human organism or human consciousness. Modern humanity is drained by his work and alienated from genuinely meaningful activity. The understand this, one only needs to look at the woeful state of contemporary higher eduction. The name of just one of the symptoms of this new set of relations of production is Boredom – something which Greenberg claims is a relatively recent invention. Capitalism’s cheap and easy remedy for this is Kitsch.


Eliot’s solution to the problem, which Greenberg attacks in “The Plight of Culture” is call for a return to an earlier pre-industrial age. Greenberg finds this highly problematic for all the reasons we mentioned in class. The masses simply would not allow it, and the leaders we have today do not dare contradict the will of the masses. Look, for instance, at the majority of candidates now making bids for the presidency, and their dire fear of suggesting they place any degree of credulity in the conclusions of the best modern science. Further, history, which in the final analysis is the result of overall economic development, simply does not go backwards. Greenberg’s response to what he deems the ‘callowness’ of Eliot is to argue that technological revolutions have always caused social crises in their earliest phases, though he argues that with time these crises do work themselves out.

The role of formal experimentation under the present phase of economic and technological development, which for Greenberg amounts to Capitalism going through its death throes, is not to produce a style of art which will be appropriate to all people in all places and at all times, but rather to produce a style of art which for the present moment does not debase itself to the level of Kitsch. As I said in class, we do not know what kind of art the new society of the future will bring. The material conditions under which it would be possible to know that do not yet exist. In the future it may once again be possible realistically to depict the human form in a painting without that image inevitably functioning as a mere illustration, or unavoidably reminding us of an ad for outlandishly overpriced brandname underwear. The future, for Greenberg, remains open here.

Greenberg does allow that a new kind of art, possibly realist in style, may emerge. But this can only happen after industry develops to a point at which we have a classless society, one in which work, and indeed consumption (here, once again a kind of intellectual and bodily labor), has actually become interesting to us again. This is not a nostalgic return to folk culture – at least Greenberg does not think so – but it does bear a resemblance to folk culture insofar as artworks under this new system, will, like folk art, be collective productions resulting from a synthesis of work and play. This, as far as the early Greenberg is concerned, is one of the first signs of cultural decadence, the replacement of great schools of art by the occasional exceptional individual.

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As for all new art arising in rebellion against older forms, Greenberg will not argue that this is entirely the case. He will say instead that art, in our own culture at least, has developed as a result of artists’ need to identify and work within the limitations of any given medium. Rather than offering us a million things to process at once – which is precisely what the multi-tasking we do at work today offers us – great art strives to focus our attention on one task at a time, by appealing to only one of our sense at a time. This is the ‘purity’ Greenberg mentions in his essay “Towards a Newer Laöcoon,” and which he insists Kitsch is bent on destroying. Genuine art will progress insofar as it is able to break free from external and pathological influences and emerge as simply what it is. Greenberg, then, draws a very hard and fast line between true art and junk, and insists, in the final analysis, a person likes either one or the other. Further, he will insist that most
stuff passing itself off today as art is in fact junk. Greenberg does not say that it is always easy to tell the difference between the two, precisely because some junk is produced by people with real talent. We call these persons “sell outs”. Further, the few artists who spend all their time working to produce something which isn’t Kitsch don’t always tend – and this should surprise no one – to be particularly good at marketing themselves. Whereas producers of Kitsch, who invariably work for large industry, one way or another, inevitably have vast armies of PR and marketing experts who specialize in nothing but the selling of product. Consequently, junk insinuates its ways into all areas of our lives, just a Greenberg said, and the available opportunities for the appreciation of genuine art become daily fewer.

Last thing I’ll say about Greenberg – and this is crucial, if only to keep the historical record straight – is that his view of things changes over the years. I won’t go into all the details, but do note these. Sometime after WWII Greenberg begins to abandon his dogged optimism with regard to the possibility of human progress. Whereas in the 30’s his commitment to Marxism expressed itself in the belief that there was no such thing as human nature, by the time the ’50s roll around, Greenberg is arguing strenuously in favor of transcendental categories of aesthetic experience, and the absolute value of certain works of abstract art. In a word, the Marxist has become a solitary idealist. Why? The answer to this question is complex. One possible reason is that Greenberg suddenly felt a renewed allegiance to Humanism after the horrors of the war. He may also have lost his faith in deliverance through technology. From a more negative perspective, perhaps Greenberg was seduced by the power of his own analytical skills. Or, perhaps he became demoralized when he saw Capitalism’s refusal to fail according to Marx’s predictions. Most cynically, perhaps Greenberg became seduced by the money and prestige to be gained by trading art in an market which for the very first time was beginning to buy and sell works of art for millions of dollars – a condition Rosenberg deplores. This outrageous practice, a shock which now no longer shocks us, is something which NEVER was the case before the ’60s, the moment in history during which today’s technologically sophisticated and highly bureacratic multi-national corporations – think IBM – first emerge. Nor, prior to this time, did it ever make sense to anyone to invest in difficult art. Sure, some millionaires collected it; but they didn’t buy it on sites like the one linked here (artfacts.net), which thinly veils itself as an educational resource when in fact it functions as nothing more than a brokerage that may as well be selling real estate or barrels of crude oil.

Anyhow, it’s only during the Cold War that Greenberg shifts from being highly influential to downright notorious. If you want to read about this shift in greater detail, here’s the book to check out of the library.

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From W.J.T. Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want?

In this intense, far-reaching, and poignant book—a book that sums up the work of a lifetime—the acclaimed art historian T. J. Clark rewrites the history of modern art. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, he explains, the project called socialism may have come to an end at roughly the same moment as modernism. Did modernism and socialism depend on each other for their vitality—for their sense of the future and their wish to live in a fully material world? Have they died? Aware of modernism’s foibles and blind spots, but passionately attached to the movement’s wildness, Clark poses these fundamental questions in Farewell to an Idea.

News From New Pompeii

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

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Wallace Stevens
(1879 – 1955)
A Postcard From The Volcano

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is … Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

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Jasper Johns
Light Bulb 1 (1958)
Private Collection

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Helen Frankenthaler (obituary)
Abstract expressionist artist associated with the colour field movement

Michael McNay
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 December 2011

At the age of 23 Helen Frankenthaler painted Mountains and Sea (1952), an abstraction that freed up the logjam in postwar American art following the first sensational burst of creative activity by the abstract expressionists. It looks, in reproduction, like a gently evocative watercolour with a series of blue, green and red stains fading into pink, and a small, glowing yellow ochre passage coalescing into the hint of landscape that the title suggests. In fact Frankenthaler, who has died aged 83, had just returned from a holiday in Nova Scotia to her studio in New York, and nailed a canvas about 7ft high and 10ft wide to the floor and poured oil colour on to the surface.

The method and the scale of it was, of course, borrowed from Jackson Pollock’s procedure, but it was totally devoid of Pollock’s angst-ridden search for the sublime. Frankenthaler said later that, fresh from the north Atlantic, she painted from the memories absorbed into not only her mind but her wrists as well. Painting became once again, as in many of its best periods, an instinctive coalition of hand and eye and controlling intelligence.

(read more)

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Helen Frankenthaler with sculptor David Smith

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Helen Frankenthaler
Life Magazine
1956


“Societies, like Soviet Russia, without any outrageous modern art of their own, seem to us to be only half alive.”

— Leo Steinberg

Willem de Kooning
Woman, 1949
Oil on canvas with enamel and charcoal
60 1/2 x 48 inches
Private collection

Modern Art as CIA ‘Weapon’

Revealed: How The Spy Agency Used Unwitting Artists
Such as Pollock and de Kooning in A Cultural Cold War
The Indepentent
By Frances Stonor Saunders
Sunday, 22 October 1995


For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art – President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.” As for the artists themselves, many were ex- com- munists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.
(learn more)

Guston Moma
Philip Guston
Painting, 1954
Oil on canvas
63 1/4 x 60 1/8 inches
Museum of Modern Art, NYC

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Franz Kline
Orange and Black Wall, 1959
Oil on Canvas
66 3/4 x 144 1/2 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Constructivism

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Vladmir Tatlin
Counter Relief (1915)

The first formulation of socialist realism was made by Andrei Zhdanov in August 1934 at the first All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers. Although his speech was aimed primarily at writers, it was also applicable to the other branches of the arts. The obligations incumbent on cultural producers, whom Stalin had called upon to become ‘engineers of human souls’, included the demand that they ‘depict life faithfully’, while showing ‘reality in its revolutionary development.’ At the same time, ‘faithfulness and historical concreteness’ were to be combined with the task of ‘the ideological refashioning and education of the working people in the spirit of socialism.’

(read more)

Socialist Realism


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Russian Pavilion
New York World’s Fair (1939)

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Stalin Monument

1934 Soviet Congress

Marcel Mauss – Manna and Mana

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

This classic essay by Hubert and Mauss was both an early contribution to Durkheim’s struggle to establish an academic discipline studying social phenomena and, for the authors, the start of a collaborative study of religious phenomena. A summary is offered of the very dense argument, which concentrates on comparing animal sacrifice in Vedic India and early Judaism.

First written by Marcel Mauss and Henri Humbert in 1902, A General Theory of Magic gained a wide new readership when republished by Mauss in 1950. As a study of magic in ‘primitive’ societies and its survival today in our thoughts and social actions, it represents what Claude Lévi-Strauss called, in an introduction to that edition, the astonishing modernity of the mind of one of the century’s greatest thinkers

The Revolution Will Be Advertised

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

One year before Rosenberg’s essay on Action Painting.

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Jackson Pollock Makes A Painting,
a film by Han Namuth (1950)

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Cecil Beaton Takes A Photo
Vogue Magazine (1951)

Holy Crap, This Was Good!

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

Julian Lage with the Nels Cline 4


What So Proudly We Hailed!

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

“Gone To The Dogs”

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized
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Henri Matisse
The Joy of Life (1906)

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Pablo Picasso
The Demoiselles of Avignon (1907)

Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending Staircase II (1912)

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Jasper Johns
Target With Faces (1955)

In recent posts I have presented the music of familiar “classical” composers: Claude Debussy, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich. I also presented less familiar modern composers, of the New Viennese School: Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Here I will present a very different group of composers, the New York School. The New York School arose in the early ’50s when John Cage and Morton Feldman met at a performance of Anton Webern’s work. Their music is typified by accident, improvisation, novel textures, and open and extended forms – in particular Feldman, some of whose pieces are five hours long. Another important characteristic of the New York School is their experimentation with novel forms of notation (click the images below) which would allow them to diverge from the traditional scoring that enslaved musicians to the autocratic will of the composer. As you listen to this music, you should hear a world of difference between it and the expressive but insular abstraction of, say, Schoenberg and the manic, or mantic, repetitiveness of, say, Terry Riley, a Minimalist composer on whom I will post more later. Please listen and enjoy. Comments are always welcome and encouraged.

You might want to consider the relationship between the composers who called themselves the New York School, and a group of extremely important painters – all descendants of Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg – who also called them selves the New York School: Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Willem DeKooning, Franz Kline.

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Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg
at the beach, with the artists
Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner (and an unidentified child)

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John Cage
(1912 – 1992)
“The Seasons – Prelude III, Summer”
“The Perilous Night”
“Totem Ancestor”
“A Cage of Saxophones – Five”

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Morton Feldman
(1926 – 1987)
“Rothko Chapel (4)”
“Neither”
“For John Cage (10:00-20:00)”
“For Christian Wolff”
(sample of 3-hr piece)

Browne Available Forms FAC-10775

Earle Brown
(1926 – 2002)
“Synergy”
“Octet”
“Solo for Trumpet”

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Christian Wolff
(b. 1934)
“Burdocks”
“Pairs”
“Dark as A Dungeon”

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left to right:
C.W., E.B., J.C., M.F.





What music did Jackson Pollock like?



Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie

“How is it possible, since the United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, that for the third consecutive year, life expectancy in the US has declined?”

Stanford’s pioneering behavioral scientist [Robert M. Kaplan] draws on a lifetime of research and experience guiding the NIH to make the case that America needs to radically rethink its approach to health care if it wants to stop overspending and overprescribing and improve people’s lives.

American science produces the best — and most expensive — medical treatments in the world. Yet U.S. citizens lag behind their global peers in life expectancy and quality of life. Robert Kaplan brings together extensive data to make the case that health care priorities in the United States are sorely misplaced. America’s medical system is invested in attacking disease, but not in addressing the social, behavioral, and environmental problems that engender disease in the first place. Medicine is important, but many Americans act as though it were all-important.

The United States stakes much of its health funding on the promise of high-tech diagnostics and miracle treatments, while ignoring strong evidence that many of the most significant pathways to health are nonmedical. Americans spend millions on drugs for high cholesterol, which increase life expectancy by only six to eight months on average. But they underfund education, which might extend life expectancy by as much as twelve years. Wars on infectious disease have paid off, but clinical trials for chronic conditions—costing billions—rarely confirm that new treatments extend life. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health spends just 3 percent of its budget on research on the social and behavioral determinants of health, even though these factors account for 50 percent of premature deaths.

America’s failure to take prevention seriously costs lives. More than Medicine argues that we need a shakeup in how we invest resources, and it offers a bold new vision for longer, healthier living.

Depravity on Display (1937)

Posted: February 8, 2019 in Uncategorized

Has any political party in Western history had as vexed a relationship with art as the German National Socialists? We’ve long known, of course, that their uses of and opinions on art constituted the least of the Nazi party’s problems. Still, the artistic proclivities of Hitler and company compel us, perhaps because they seem to promise a window into the mindset that resulted in such ultimate inhumanity. We can learn about the Nazis from the art they liked, but we can learn just as much (or more) from the art they disliked — or even that which they suppressed outright.

Issued by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jackson Pollock Jazz
1. Jelly Morton and His Red Hot Peppers – Beale Street Blues
2. Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra – Lazy River
3. Louis Armstrong – Mahogany Hall Stomp
4. Count Basie and His Orchestra – One O’Clock Jump
5. Billie Holiday – I Got a Man Crazy For Me (He’s Funny)
6. Duke Ellington – Delta Serenade
7. Artie Shaw and Orch – It Had To Be You
8. Billie Holiday – When a Man Loves a Woman
9. Duke Ellington – Solitude
10. Fats Waller – Carolina Shout
11. Count Basie and Orch – Boogie Woogie
12. T Bone Waller – I Got a Break Baby
13. Lionel Hampton – Central Avenue Breakdown
14. Coleman Hawkins – Boff Boff (Mop Mop)
15. Coleman Hawkins – My Ideal
16. Lionel Hampton – Jack The Bellboy
17. Louis Armstrong – St. James Infirmary